How many things will I forget today?
How many times stop still, asking myself
what I was going to do? In what new ways
will my mind play tricks on me? What a wealth
of experience she tosses to the wind,
masterpieces lost even to me.
Without them, am I still one-of-a-kind,
a unique loop of interpreted memory?
How much can one forget -- an actor's name,
the novel one finished reading last night,
where the damn car keys are -- and still remain
a bubble of identity riding a wave of light?
(A turd in sewage remembers a meal,
my muse remarks. It's I who make you real.)
Bringing Desire to the Fields
The farmer makes love to his wife in the field
to impress the achromatic land, to undo
its sullen mood. He's chosen a late afternoon,
and under the vast return of the crows
and under the imagined shade, the region's cool firma
is their terra incognita. They've walked forty steps down
past the Allis Chalmers. Out to reimagine
the cusp of season, the nuptial knot.
As yet there are no leaves upon the trees
to rustle, no vegetation spreading
like caprice across the fields.
What is this unfeasible something,
this stem of wish, this weird appetite?
Just yesterday the children shook like they were
made from sugar, and something wrote
words into his dream, to fill the land with your
geography. He's afraid his mind's too tired
from working the ungiving acres. What's to lose?
He sees now where her cotton dress
becomes a brook stream in this light, the air
as thin as kitchen breeze. Her body
a brook trout. Their acreage uncircumscribed.
Reader, I may have fallen
in love with the farmer. The hills beyond the couple
baffle themselves slowly. What a world
to want to run after. This promise
back to the garden. His thoughts while they are resting.
She's only imagining, stalks of yellow
flowers flush and frilled and rippling, and a song
of hours. On this and all the world's resources,
she lingers, lit up like a votive.
Hayden's Ferry Review
To be conquered or seized.
Satan must have been something,
his entrance dramatic, his lovely long form,
eye-catching, all his red, livid, hot
qualities. As the garden cooled, in he came.
The birds were quiet, the hills unmarked.
He came to the world like stealth, steady as lust,
and sunk deep, a solvent in the snake's skin,
tender as rain dreaming, a mist,
shapely and thin, his distillation,
his secret weather, and all over her
he came. Above her cool form,
the ether of him hovers,
pretty as a keepsake. Otherwise,
she would not have listened, or dreamed
to his will: the immaterial, the promises.
Otherwise, she would have been dreaming
the world as it was, and beyond her
the mountains would hang, vivid as church.
Instead, she is dreaming of tenuous bodies.
Instead, she is dreaming of the sea, crenelate, and of scallops,
hung in the waves, of suspension, of her weightless
form, of rare ideas, of trespass:
Take from the tree and eat. When she wakes,
the garden seems lambent,
strung with lights, like a party. She is wreathed
by mites, like powder, small luminaria,
impalpable trinkets, adornments, her evening's dress.
So taken, Eve rides Satan like a new car, and she rides
until Dad takes it away. He won't understand;
this will break His heart. But Satan's her first.
When he flatters, he flexes and wreathes,
his intricate flesh twisting with blood.
Sinuous, she coils like a replica.
She is ready to burst her skin at the crisp possibilities.
Juiced up, the garden shines like a fat corsage
for the prom, and she believes him.
First, let us admit our imperfections.
And let us be forgiven our imperfections.
The saints to understand our imperfections.
The human body formed of myth and air.
Let us cry the hurt of imperfections.
The landscape to mark the boundaries of these imperfections.
Let crushed shells escape the sea foam of the less perfect.
The body a basket of sex and pretty violences.
How blessed are the castles of my imperfections!
To randomly number these imperfections:
Let birdsong distract the burden of imperfections.
The human body formed of saint and ash.
Let a teacup hold as metaphor our imperfections.
Or that lake to be a poultice for our imperfections.
Flawless sky in ignorance of these imperfections.
The body's troubles with gravity and air.
I try to wash the imperfections from me
But they stick like a dog on a red bone.
Who gives away this child of imperfection?
I kiss the ring of My Imperfection.
Farmer of imperfection, your cows are out again!
Tie better the broken fence of your imperfections.
The trampled daisies imperfectly crushed.
The sky awash in coming rains.
O house of imperfections with your cabinets of crusted honey!
I wash myself in a burden of want.
Let us bless the limbs in our tree of imperfections.
The body a rebuttal of skin and hair.
Pebble Lake Review
When I travel abroad, I will invoke
Ted’s poems at checkpoints:
yes, barns, yes, memory, gentility,
the quiet little wind among stones.
If they ask, You are American?
I will say, Ted’s kind of American.
No, I carry no scissors or matches.
Yes, horizons and dinner tables.
Yes, weather, the honesty of it.
Buttons, chickens. Feel free
to dump my purse. I’ll wander
to the window, stare out for days.
Actually, I have never been
to Nebraska, except with Ted,
who hosted me dozens of times,
though we have never met.
His deep assurance comforts me.
He’s not big on torture at all.
He could probably sneak into your country
when you weren’t looking
and say something really good about it.
Have you noticed those purple blossoms
in a clump beside your wall?
MIDWEST QUARTERLY REVIEW
I want her
to dig up
in her garden,
the pansies, the penta,
thyme and the lilies,
nobody knows the name of,
unwind the morning glories
from the wire windows
of the fence,
take the blooming
and the almost-blooming
and the dormant,
especially the dormant,
plant them in her new yard
on the other side
and see how
-Naomi Shihab Nye
Clackamas Literary Review
(Dear Jim, I #fnally got your
letter enclosing your letter
enclocussing your letter which was so ompportant foe
me, thannkuok yuon very much. In time this fainful
bsiness will will soonfeul will soon be onert. Tnany
anany goodness. If S lossiee eli wyyonor wy
sinfsignature. I hope I hope I make it. -Bill)
The first snowfall brings chaos.
First the horizon disappears, then
you disappear. When
William Carlos Williams suffered his first stroke
he was 68 years old, in 1951. His second,
the following year. The man loved
our American speech. Vulgar & graceless
as oversized boots he loved it. The pimply-
faced girl he loved. Forms inside things gnarly
to the touch. Smokestacks, mustard weed.
The steely river filling with acid & sparrows
picking in the dirt, like Death. Yet
still just sparrows. Beauty of marigolds,
& fried oysters. Beauty of spiderwebs,
Breughel's hunters in the snow. Except
maybe what the poet saw & heard
was in his own head! Maybe in Rutherford,
N.J. there was nothing. Maybe
he was in despair, fierce lover
of women & adulterer & this morning waking to
someone has dressed him in an old man's underwear—
gunmetal-gray, woolen-itchy, soiled cuffs
at bony wrists & ankles & the crotch unsnapped.
Opens his mouth to curse
& words choke like phlegm. A doctor doesn't expect
to die like the rest of us … Waking in the sun
in Flossie's garden back of the yellow house
the terror strikes him maybe he's dreamt it
hands lifting a thrashing bloody infant
from between female thighs, &
ironweed along the railroad embankment
tough enough to thrive in cinders, &
there he's laughing typing on the old manual
words leaping astonished out of the mute keyboard,
so worn you can't read the letters. And
Clouds I've been noticing this morning, too.
Diesel-dirted, broken & yet dignified in motion
moving from west to east effortless above the pines
in this New Jersey smudged sky. In March 1963
the final stroke. "Died in his sleep." Eyes
moving restlessly down the naked body.
On a gurney? Since when? The shock of it, his young
male body restored. Svelte dark down of the chest,
groin & soft stirring penis. Winter-pale
haunches, muscles hard as bone. Lifts
his head. Where? Christ, he's alert, he's curious—
ready to begin it all again—
This is the time for which we have been waiting.
(Note: The letter from William Carlos
Williams to his friend
and editor James Laughlin was written
prior to June 1962 when Williams'
last book, Pictures
From Breughel, was published.)
JONBENET RAMSEY, AMERICA'S MOST FAMOUS LITTLE GIRL
Though you learned the dance routines they made you
and you were 1996 Little Miss
1996 Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover
1996 America's Royale Little
1996 Little Miss Charlevoix,
1996 National Tiny Miss
(for Billy Collins)
is in the American
soul that soars with
kites that soar! Some-
thing alive with the roar
of the wind lifting the kite
that soars above rooftops, tree-
tops, and awestruck heads! And yet—
Something there is not in the
American soul to adore the
kite that fails to soar.
I've seen it, I've
feared it, and
so have you.
The kite whose tail
is tattered in the
The kite that rises
at your feet.
-Joyce Carol Oates
Where is the long robust arm of
The lone survivor of the arms race
The sole imperium of the world
That can strike terror into souls worlds away
And amass relief to suffering humanity
Another world away
Where is your legendary munificence
Where is your kindness
Where is your lightning speed
Where is the rumored love of persons created
Four days after the disaster
Help begins to trickle in
Were we half-asleep
And just woken up to catastrophe?
Servicemen were first to arrive
Bearing arms not relief
Ordering huddled and beaten folk
To cower in their shame and nakedness
To die famished and unsung
A wayside and water-logged death
A newspaper said it loudly:
For the storm has exposed the festering sore of
Which money thrown at will not white-wash
But Americans are caring
And readily open hands, hearts, and purse
And the world also cares
Offering tons of relief to a nation in disarray
But our leaders took so long to rouse
For this is not Schiavo
Which summoned and polarized them swiftly
Still, as reckoning waits for time opportune
Congress bickers over who will bell the cat
And Bush four days after
Declared lethargy unacceptable
Aid, massive help, is on the way
As new vast arenas are found
To herd and barricade numberless poor and black
And homes open their doors to succor distracted
O for a Guiliani
To mobilize broken lives towards hope
Then steps in Honore howling:
Put those drawn rifles down
This is no Iraq or Afghanistan
These people need bread water shelter
Not bullets and bayonets
We have enough deaths from nature's furor
And to Bush and FEMA:
I need choppers
I need food and water
I need clothing and blankets
I need truckloads of sustenance
I need drugs to hold pandemic deaths at bay
I need help to repair damage and rebuild lives
And I need them now!
These have begun to come
For, surely, this phoenix will rise again
From the waters and ashes.
Katrina, and Other Poems
Then we raised the top portion of the bed,
and her head was like a trillium, growing
up, out of the ground, in the woods,
eyes closed, mouth open,
and we put the Battle arias on, and when I
heard the first note, that was it, for me,
I excused myself from the death-room guests,
and went to my mother, and cleared a place
on the mattress, beside her arm, lifting
the tubes, oxygen, dextrose, morphine,
dipping in under them, and letting them
rest on my hair, as if burying myself
under a topsoil of roots, I pulled
the sheet up, over my head,
and touched my forehead and nose and mouth
to her arm, and then, against the warm
solace of her skin, I sobbed full out,
unguarded, as I have not done near her;
and I could feel some barrier between us dissolving,
I could feel myself dissolving it,
moving ever-closer to her through it, till I was
all there. And in her coma nothing
drew her away from giving me the basal
kindness of her presence. When the doctor came in,
he looked at her and said, “I’d say
hours, not days.” When he left, I ate
a pear with her, talking us through it,
and walnuts -- and a crow, a whole bouquet
of crows came apart, outside the window.
I looked for the moon and said, I’ll be right
back, and ran down the hospital hall,
and there, outside the eastern window,
was the waxing gibbous, like a swimmer’s head
turned to the side half out of the water, mouth
pulled to the side and back, to take breath,
I could see my young mother, slim
and strong in her navy one-piece, and see,
in memory’s dark-blue corridor,
the beauty of her crawl, the hard, graceful
overhand motion, as someone who says
This way, to the others behind. And I went back,
and sat with her, alone, an hour,
in the quiet, and I felt, almost, not
afraid of losing her, I was so
content to have her beside me, unspeaking,
- Sharon Olds
The New Yorker
By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit-size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face –
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.
One Secret Thing
Sit and watch the memory disappear
romance disappear the probability
of new adventures disappear
well isn't it beautiful
when the sun goes down
don't we all want to be where we can watch it
sink to a spark
Your friend goes to Sri Lanka and works
for a human rights organization
in the middle of a civil war
where she too might be disappeared any time
and another friend goes to retreats
sits miserably waiting for ecstasy and ecstasy
actually comes, so many others
so many serial monogamists seeking love
some open doorway some wild furious breath
Please, I thought, when I first saw the
De Kooning did when Alzheimer's had taken him
into its arms and he could do nothing
but paint, purely paint, transparent, please let
make beauty like that, sometime, like an infant
that can only cry
and suckle, and shit, and sleep,
boneless, unaware, happy,
brush in hand no ego there he went
a field of cerise another of lime
a big curve slashes across canvas
then another and there it is the lucidity
we long for it looks like
everything belonging to the other world
that we forget at birth is finally flooding
back to the man like a cold hissing tide
wave after wave where he waits on the shore
of the quiet canvas brush in hand it comes
So give it up, gorgeous, get yourself over
to the sandy shore with the sleeping gulls
--does the tide rise or doesn't it
and are you or are you not willing
to rise from sleep, yes, in the dark, and
go outside and wait for it
and do you know what is meant by patience
do you know what is meant by going outside
do you know what is meant by the tide
Matisse, too, when the fingers ceased to work,
Worked larger and bolder, his primary colors
The weddings of innocence and glory, innocence
Monet when the cataracts blanketed his eyes
Painted swirls of rage, and when his sight
Painted water lilies, Picasso claimed
I do not seek, I find, and stuck to that story
About himself, and made that story stick.
Damn the fathers. We are talking about
Neither the roaring lions, growling bears, snorting bull,
horses grazing and flying the heavens, nor the archer
stringing his bow care that I stand in the middle of this garden
at midnight gazing up, while my wife behind sleeping windows
embraces a distant dream. In my mother's garden
I was a child plucking the head of the snapdragon, pinching it
to open its pink mouth just after the rains had fallen.
This garden is not so ablaze and is never visited
by the hummingbird with its long beak taking its
life from a silent trumpet. The cat that dozed soft
as a cloud as I trimmed the hedge last spring
sleeps forever under the arms of the floating sprirea.
The moon swaggers around a cloud flirting with an oak,
then spreads out his rays like a randy peacock. Until then
I couldn't tell purple phlox from white fleabane,
one named flower the other weed. Allegories of seeds
mean nothing here, though being born in dirt must make
for a hard start. I know this; if you mow wild onions
they repay you with stink, but even mold can blossom.
With ears like folded blooms, I hear a voice in wind,
or it comes through their own sown tongues, for every plant
wants to grow like the morning glory. Though it
knows it's doomed, it climbs, not to display
its fragility to passing lovers, but to show gardeners
the contemptuous beauty of the uncultivated.
FLIGHT OF THE DEAD
The flight attendants have jumped to their seats
and strapped themselves in like bandidos.
I'm not sure if we're landing or ascending.
The intercom lightly shakes in its cradle.
For all I know we've begun a perpetual climb.
Whatever's shaken me from sleep makes me blink
at the white lines of light on the floor
mirroring stars I might see out my window.
But for the drone of engines hugging
the wings, I could be napping,
the TV wincing in the den. By now
we have passed above the graves of my parents,
long ago gone on their last flight into air.
What if I could coax out of the heavens my mother,
fire exploding from all horizons?
As we circle the heavens, could she
explain the aerodynamics of suffering,
how it intersects with the parable
of bliss? Would I learn there are no
secrets of life and death, only the vortex
of the one transcendent world?
But as I fly above the sleeping deer in the field,
the quiet birds in their woven nests, I know
I cannot disturb the dead whose love has gone
to ground. From this strange height I cannot
wake the terrified fox from its dream
nor still the stuttering owl. Except
for my waking to life, what can I
offer the radiance of morning?
The Literary Review
Unknown to the sheep meandering
the meadowy sky, unknown to the
small birds picking in the garden
of his shadow, the red bull
with the short horns will
thrust his nostrils into the spring air
and sniff for the heifer's blossoms
he finds are fair, the chosen Charolais
still grazing, waiting for the magic
mountain of mounting, switching
her tail at the moving blotches of flies.
Without seeming to notice, her bulging
eyes are watching it all. Everywhere
the bulls of the earth are ready.
Their huge scrotums swing
like pendulums of time.
Their bellowing fills the hills
with the terrible echoes of wonder.
Once this red bull frolicked in a blaze
of setting sun. Today he will come as death
upon the world to make another.
Now he will plunge in the sheath
that will lather with foam of his sex.
And repeating the thrust, he comes
to the center where the sea
of himself will swim.
Now the bone of his flame
will fall like ashes.
His body will disappear
as smoke on the horizon
folds into night.
The moon will rise.
And the womb of the heifer will
fill with the future of fire,
for the mighty bull has lain down
for the grace of grasses
in all the pastures
where the shining beetle
rolls its dung into spires.
The Southern Review
Ten years ago, I followed a lizard
Through a grassy, ruined amphitheater,
Quick as quicksilver,
But green, not silver.
The lizard darted,
Shinnied, insinuated like flame,
A pinpoint of pulse and flash.
The lizard knew
The Etruscan wall's cracks,
The stone that blunts the plow,
The mortar's and stucco's flaws.
The lizard dwelt in a present
That extends, elongates, thins
Into a filament of consumed air.
I followed the lizard
From brick chink to olive grove,
Poppies to straw,
To sand and loam.
I knew, for a moment, the balance
Between the intimate and the infinite,
A word and what it reckons.
The sun on the hilltop
Flared upon the thousand thistle seeds,
The thousand virtues,
The thousand minerals,
The thousandth of a second
It takes the lizard to taste the moment
And change course.
The Pear As One Example: New & Selected Poems, 1984-2008
The pain we feel reading
mere words in a book
clings to us like static
on a cold day. The road
a woman walks in the last chapter
twists away from her happiness,
and the pain follows
wherever we go, haunting us
with its mute footsteps-- the ghost
of pain we have known
and of pain to come.
of grief in a sonnet sequence;
another fracture of innocence:
these are templates into which our lives
must fit themselves, moving shadows
the sun makes, rising and going down
on every page, as evening settles
into all the unswept, unexamined
corners of the world.
The Gettysburg Review
=scalped grass, trepanned soil,
granite folds, gray, like a bare brain;
a collision of lilacs with lilac anti-matter;
the apple tree null with its perfume
when everything fogged with mildew.
=a mutter when the backhoe idles,
mind-devouring decibels when it moves;
or TNT, as infant apples
like pebbles=shrapnel; a sudden, public
subtraction from the backstory
of family life, old stone cellar with its fuse box,
fruit jars, potato bin, cistern.
= an addition, as if wed buried slaves
or a calf, alive, beneath cement.
NO MORE WATER
God so loved the world
but we dont love him back,
maybe dont even believe
our fleabitten selves deserve affection
from a flea, let alone the Lord
of Hosts. We scratch, breeding
like feral cats in a landfill
who know life is garbage
in various stages of decay
and delight in the rats raw morsel,
sheltering beneath a ziggurat
of tires too bald for the cunning
broker of rebuilts and retreads
as the greasy world waits for rain.
Early at the door landscape develops
like a glass plate.
Color added by seven grows modern by the hour,
the opposite of diving.
And just outside, the porch ceiling will suddenly
loft and expand
to an endlessness you cannot see the lights of.
will explode like fugitive dark hearts and azaleas
hoot their fuschias in every direction.
And so they arrived at retirement.
A table by a lake overlooking bluebirds,
arms of the rocking chair
curled under at the ends. The lake combing itself
like the sky it admires.
Above the bed, flowers by one of the Dutchmen.
Yes there is a bed.
Years have not changed this anymore than eager leaves
chasing across the driveway.
Objects drift slowly through glycerine, stars,
bronze savvy of a bell
suspended above potato gravel with a braided chain.
Full Circle Journal
Yes, as Williams said, in things, but also behind them,
beside, among, around.
Yes the wishbone, but that's all of them,
phalanges to furcula.
Even the least thing in memory, even memory remembering
itself, or the last minute.
Even the minute as if it was an instant opened and lengthened
by cesium so that books can be written
within it, and almost no time has passed, but is passing.
Even mallards in the print
are taking their time to rise in flight above the scratched cattails
They are being remembered so intently
they haven't moved since their beginning, the male and female
back through the brushstrokes, the artist remembering structure
so intently he had time to render each feather
down to its shaft and barb, because it is important
in the poorest art that a thing be realized so entirely, nothing
is left for imagination or the marsh.
Like goodnight kisses awaiting your face,
like steaming creeks anticipating daylight,
the cards are thinking of everyone
long before we need them.
They are measuring the dead by their silence,
now loaded with stones.
Many are off in small rooms composing
epitaphs, sentiments, signing up lilies,
details to care for, birthdays, friendship,
sympathy, kisses of solicitude
for spaces potentially in danger of speechlessness.
The King's English
To the fourth floor ascends
the world's slowest elevator,
through violin makers,
costumers, and MDs specializing
in repetitive motion disorders,
to the place where music is made possible,
but not made.
She has come to restring a bow for her doctoral
recital; the tall gnome who guards the secrets
tells her its tip has cracked.
Worse comes to worse, I say, you buy a new one.
$10,000, she says, for a new one.
Cases of bows swing on a pivot.
Octagonal and round sticks, their backs
bent over heat to form a concave curve,
rest in brackets. Around them floats dust,
horsehair, heat, leavings from Brazilian pernambuco.
Each has its ebony frog, inlaid with mother of pearl,
ivory tip, leather grip, maker's mark.
As I look, the shop fills with elves and sprites
that dance in the late afternoon sun--
it swims through the dusty window in golden streams
the color of weak green tea or late harvest hay--
to the shivered longing of one held note.
PAYING THE ELF TRIBUTE
When they bought the summer house,
he found it first:
a hollowed out tree trunk
five feet into the forest
that stretched like a rubber band
around their ring of meadow.
It’s an elf house, he told her,
his only daughter,
his only child.
We must pay tribute
to keep mischief away.
when school spilled out its charges,
and father and daughter were both freed
to move into the warm, secret days
and hushed, cool nights of the mountains,
they would make their way
five feet into the forest
to leave a shard of sea-rubbed glass,
a branch of silvered wildflowers,
a petrified charm tied on silk ribbon
at the elf house door.
The year her old cat died,
she left its collar
—to keep the new kitten safe, she told him.
The night she graduated high school,
a boy she loved died;
the highway and alcohol
loved him more than she could.
In college, a friend slid off an icy road.
Later, her grandparents, one by one.
For each, the elves received tribute, memorial.
After each came new love, a child.
Then came her father’s cancer,
the long, slow descent into absence.
He had retired by then
to the summer house made year round.
How was one to know what elves needed
as recompense for this?
She left husband and child to care
for each other, took charge
of swabbing pus from wounds,
washing his sheets of blood and vomit,
prying truth from doctors.
Every so often, she would slip
to the forest’s edge
to leave a talisman
in the small pile of tokens
that represented a life:
a 1945 penny, his Navy wings,
the gold pen she’d given him
when he turned forty, and
in one final desperate act,
as he lay evaporated almost to bone,
his wedding band from the mother
who had died before her daughter could know her.
He slipped away that night.
Perhaps that was the elves’ gift
for the ring. In the morning,
when she went to retrieve it,
angry at their treachery,
in the pile of fading glitter, sheen and decay,
it alone was gone
into the warm, dark heart
of the forest.
Round, etched rose gold,
too heavy for any modern
your gift weights my palm,
a drill-punched circle of heavy heart,
ticking just slower than time.
It arrived after the towers collapsed
and my lover’s wife had died
and I had won him
in a terrible lottery
that left me holding the ticket,
stunned and silent and so afraid
that time had already run through my illicit
fingers, slippery, gelatinous.
Could I lose him twice
You watch across the reflective mirage of distance,
wondering, warm like the heavy inevitable tomorrow,
like the parentheses I know
I’ll find under my pillow
when I’m changing the sheets,
the future I won
and can never possess.
My shameful inadequacy to love sufficiently
slopes away in pathetic disorder:
a mountainside littered
with glass and gravel.
The watch ticks—
that’s my life passing.
What do I do with my longing?
Its impractical desires bend
in all directions at once,
a sparkler fizzling in the night air.
The Texas Review
I woke up this light June morning praising the world--
sun pouring down
through the green-lit trees,
hills lofting their heads
into fresh-tinted blue,
clouds on their long white journeys
At breakfast, in the soft slant light
heads of my children shine
like the children of gods.
Half shyly I glance at them,
admiring with what ease they lift their hands--
how their mouths open and speak.
Milk in the beaded glasses, white and tall--
Bread crumbling in my hands--
When the meal is through
I walk through the glowing rooms,
feasting on lights and shadows--
clear moving depths, gashes of mote-thick gold,
enchantments of hallways blossoming
into farther rooms--
then pass outside
The scent-rich breezes touch me with rippling fingers.
I walk on green blades of grass
that curl beneath my feet,
touch the bark of trees,
bend down and cup in my hands
furry backs of flowers,
The air is alive with blackbirds, grosbeaks, jays,
Wherever I walk the moist earth heaves beneath me--
The sun follows me--
Poised on the brimming edge of my own body
I could overflow
and like some fountain spill
into this curling world of living green--
to feed dark roots,
to melt into the secret hearts of stones.
Michigan Quarterly Review
THE CHURCH OF SAN ANTONIO DE LA FLORIDA
A cleaning woman opened the rusty door
and, taking our pesetas, led us down
a narrow, dust-filled hall (the wicker chairs
were chewed by rats) into the sun-propped vault.
Only his body lay there, marble-stored.
Some skull-geographer, to map renown,
lopped off his head, and hid it from the years.
Above, his paintings soared, without a fault.
We sprained our necks--squatting on the floor.
For once the angels seemed half-real, and
in human terms, like that small, beetled friar
framed in the central arch who taught to men
how time, and the end of time may be undone,
and justice rouse the dead. The tomb was blazed
in light and flowers, and kittens frisked and
among the leaves and withered cyclamen.
Between the cats, the frescos, and the sun,
we spent three hours, indolent with praise.
His mind went in the end. Upon his walls
he thumbed the dreams that horrified his bed,
those visions we call black. In one long room
deep in the Prado tourists still may see
howling Time devour his children's heads;
the fight with clubs--upon a mountain col,
two cripples on their knees, their staves
in contest for their brothers' charity--
that Witches' Mass of human animals.
Painter, you are a lucky man to lie,
though shorter by a head, here in this dome
made sacred by the years, by art sublime,
where human angels crowd the ceiling stones
to hear the truth arise and testify,
and tombs of flowers seem a kitten's home;
though underneath squats dark and naked Time
chewing on the splinters of your bones,
and through the walls run rats with small, red
The road bends and disappears.
The sky looks down and sees it go
wherever it goes among distant hills.
But we, who are only standing here,
see the road bend and disappear.
We can think like the sky, but only know
the color of trees, the curve of the hill
where the road bends and disappears.
We can picture how it curves and goes,
but cannot know as the sky knows.
Flat people, we're not big like hills,
or arched like the round, blue-pupiled sky
and can see only what flat people see.
Unlikely the road should end, yet still
hills don't need highways to be hills.
And we could imagine a reason why
the road might end just beyond those trees,
might come to a stop and go nowhere,
might simply peter out and die,
with or without a reason why.
Meanwhile, the sky sees what the sky
sees--a road bending among dark trees,
and beyond the trees, round-headed hills,
and knows what only the sky can know--
how the road curves on, or disappears.
Learn to think like a horse
her trainer had said. She went
into the pasture at noon,
when her horses lay down to sleep
without fear of coyotes,
without fear. They sensed her
but did not mind as she stretched
out beside them with the June
heat's broad strong hand
flattening her into the grass.
But now, she said, I am studying
mules. Her trainer told her
horses forget everything by
and by. Mules never forget.
Carry your intention carefully,
a brimming bowl of water.
Mule skinner, I called her
and from my childhood I saw
a tin of Boraxo my father used
to clean grease from his hands.
Twenty-mule teams crossed
the Death Valley of our bath
room, little black mules along
the bottom of the tin, the driver
in his wagon, the whip cracking
a wicked S in the air. I'm a mule:
stubborn, dragging heavy grudges,
joys and lost friends from the alkaline
mines of my past across the bleak
present to some future use.
What do we do with the body, do we
burn it, do we set it in dirt or in
stone, do we wrap it in balm, honey,
oil, and the gauze and tip it onto
and trust it to a raft and to water?
What will happen to the memory of his
body, if one of us doesn't hurry now
and write it down fast? Will it be
salt or late light that it melts like?
Floss, rubber gloves, a chewed cap
to a pen elsewhere - how are we to
regard his effects, do we throw them
or use them away, do we say they are
relics and so treat them like relics?
Does his soiled linen count? If so,
would we be wrong then, to wash it?
There are no instructions whether it
should go to where are those with no
linen, or whether by night we should
memorially wear it ourselves, by day
reflect upon it folded, shelved, empty
Here, on the floor behind his bed is
a bent photo - why? Were the two of
them lovers? Does it mean, where we
found it, that he forgot it or lost it
or intended it for safekeeping? Should we
attempt to make contact? What if this
other man too is dead? Or alive, but
doesn't want to remember, is human?
Is it okay to be human, and fall away
from oblation and memory, if we forget,
and can't sometimes help it and sometimes
it is all that we want? How long, in
dawns and new cocks, does that take?
What if it is rest and nothing else that
we want? Is it a findable thing, small?
In what hole is it hidden? Is it , maybe,
a country? Will a guide be required who
will say to us how? Do we fly? Do we
swim? What will I do now, with my hands?
The circuitry of frost on the kitchen window
and the thought that hums inside it
A cold night, a dead night.
Snowfalls shower of data in the yard
the freezing corpseflowers, pasteflowers,
the blooms that nod and sleep on their stems
until each petal dies gratefully into the windowbox
I dont know what to do
with the doomed, the chilled over and gone,
but drink until my fingers become twigs
and, like twigs, snap.
Someone cut a hole in my head and poured a poison
so the kitchen becomes
the sum of all its information: The onion,
asleep in its paper skin, the wine, the knives
that smile in the drawer. The refrigerator hums
and loves the winter weather, the snow
and flowers that make a deathbed of it,
woolflowers, hatflowers, the dying fisted rose.
A pulse of information.
A drink would be perfect right now,
and another, to take me out the back door
and into the snow
where Id stand in my slippers and watch
pills fall from the sky. The cold air undoes
the throat and makes me blink. A wind coughs
in the trees. What have I done with my time?
You have been dead a year now
so I hardly think about you anymore.
Lookthe houselights are glowing.
They glow like angry little screens.
Youll find me in a suitcase. Youll find me in a
Lord, unbend my legs. Lord, lift me so I see.
The red moon in winter is the memory of candles,
the sky like church windows the sun nods through.
Lord, youll find me in a dead car. Ill be gone in
birds around my head and a mouthful of glass.
Birds that spin the head, Lord, and blood on my
Am I ugly like this, hands roped at the back? My
closed tight? Touch my face with your palm,
with your rough old hands that worked too hard
A car in the field where the weeds grow high,
the trunk closed tight so no air gets in. Unknot
lift me to a glassy sky. Your lovely mallet arms
I cant describe the arms that you must have.
APPLE TREES AND SWEET
The little death in the apples core says Darling,
says Sweetheart, all wrapped around its juice.
A slick breeze sways the tree, unpastes the leaves.
Oh, ticket the pick-up windshields with apple
kiss the boys in the trucks with chlorophyll and
The world is falling falling like gluey twigs.
The bees devour the flowers or sting them
into rot while high on a branch, the little death
in the apples core says, Sweet, says, Touch me
and Ill fall. All around, thin boys in trucks
idle at stop lights or look blankly toward the
Cover their trucks with leaves and falling apples,
splatter them with rot and seed and flesh.
The boys grow sleepy. Their engines growl
while the death in every apple explodes its core.
I can do what I want to do, but I want to stay
here, said someone’s girlfriend, draped as
a piece of real technology. Yes, she nearly
danced as a river, following one arm to the
estuary’s break; or pasting a quilt of refractive
light upon many square inches of her body.
A scarfskin map lies infinite, and a river
turns like mercury in the mind: it shines
there as folklore, as floodgate, as copper foil
for beach-glass. This is why we say Her name
is Rio, and why I’m learning love requires
a trawl-net, an act of free will. Someone
is singing at the dark end of the street,
the velvet of her voice covered over.
New Orleans Review
To trim away the shrapnel,
the surgeon sliced a sliver of her skull.
Now, when she lifts her hair
to show the shape, it’s moony:
a figure-eight has flown
the convex bone, therewith
some beauty to inscribe:
blood forms rubies;
you eat the Host for food.
The beautiful girl says
she’ll always be a soldier.
She’d had a two percent chance
of waking from the coma.
“Someone has to be that
two percent,” she says
with a smile. “Why not me?”
--And, sackcloth or silk,
the husk did open. We decorate
her friends at the end of May.
I’m grateful for the way my eye travels--
or skirts, looping over canvas, hillsides smooth
and spackled as walls; I’m grateful for the farmhouse
troweled on green foundations, its replica
half-vanished in the grass, my eye cutting spirals
on the surface: school figures, early morning ice;
I’m grateful that oils compound and shimmer
in museum light, but only when I lean in closer
and rest my eye mothlike on a slip of blue burning
under brown, accreted like bow strokes
trellising a fugue, or andante moving
with the urgency of paradox; I’m grateful for unrest
under colors, for all I need to rove
to see, for fields of vision populous as fields.
Well, hasn't it been one long, "monstrous,
returned, but unrequited love affair,"
as I predicted once, in the words of Yeats,
yearning for spring, with winter in the air?
No, not an affair, and unrequited? Hell,
hardly dreamt of, really. Call it friendship
and forget the amore--this, as I recall,
was your advice. Sound, but I defended
my choice of words. Affair here represented
not sex, but desire--mine--and hurt in the heart
perceiving, again and again, something as ended,
whereas friends need have no fear in being apart
and do not phone for weeks and yet stay calm,
undisturbed by music that's not on.
The first voices to reach my ears-- still bloodwet, crumpled,
half-clogged in birth-grease as my head rocked in the harbor of
eyes slits in the shock of first light, arms
pinned flipper-like writhing
among slick walls too constricted for even the first scald of
the first voices I heard after knowing
only the weather of blood-thrum,
the seasons of breathing,
the rush of core fluids gurgling like cavewater over stones,
were the voices debating my decapitation and dismemberment.
For I, though I was a 10-month baby, I was slow in coming,
huge blue galleon stalled between the shifting stones,
pelvic bones of my mother.
I was in trouble before I had a name, receiving instruction in
no trouble is ever one's own, always is shared by another.
My mother lay helplessly glowing with sweat and exhaustion,
the great moonbelly contracting and squeezing for life, hers,
as wise men conversed by a table set with the tools of our
So these were the voices, desperately hushed, deliberate,
and this my first brush with air, breath-taking, benumbing,
glove-pale hands outstretched, gaudy with the blood of my birth.
Masked faces glared, remote eyes hardening against me
among the low moans and sharp yips of my mother
as I, strangling, I, burning blue,
was trying to suck the great emptiness--
birth-whale beached in the heavy coat of being
caving in these lungs that wanted to
open expansive in the light
of this other world, this sphere before knowing,
where everything was luminous in robes of loose mist,
even the scalpels decisively angled in hands so close--,
when the great thrust came that shoved me clear
and I fell, delivered into their hands, at last.
-William Pitt Root
The bar beyond the field is
closed for ruination.
No time ago at all, as the neighbors clock it,
We could stand together at the sunroom window
And watch the publican's helpmeet snipping spinach
In our white-walled garden. It was understood.
They'd put it in the soup there'd be for dinner.
Days he didn't come, the soup would be potato.
Now I drive the night roads looking for music,
The walls of the shuttered pub and then the garden's
White walls catching my lights when I return.
Watching the new spring night on Aughinish Bay,
Nightcap in my hand at another window,
The days in Monaghan come back to me in Clare.
"I'm going into Newbliss now," I say.
"Ah," says Bernard laughing, "Nouvelle Extase,
Is it? A damned sight better you than me."
A man who lives here will get used to anything,
Even, as the story has it most days, nothing.
Nothing but the sky, the little hills and hedges.
As the poet's wife in Dublin said to me,
"Three days of that, you'll be cadging a lift
Into Cootehill to lay odds on the bacon slicer.
'He'll not get a dozen out of that one.' "
A stranger, I still find it passing strange.
Three pubs, one off-limits for the politics,
Another for the beer, so that leaves Annie
And Mick McGinn's one-room establishment,
The only bar a man need ever want.
Once a day I idle in for a pint,
Then idle back, a good three miles each way,
Whether by the low road or over the Brae.
Here's what's happening there today:
Nobody's there at first (the men are haying),
But midafternoon a fellow strolls in
And begins to take up the world with Mick.
I'm in a corner with a pint and the paper.
"Mick," says the man, "did you hear it thunder
In the night?" "No," says Mick, "I never heard it."
"Mickey Reilly heard it thunder," says the man,
Puts down his glass and seals his news with a nod
And follows his muddy gumboots out the door.
There's a clock on every wall, but they're all wrong.
I've grown accustomed to knowing it's time to leave
When the shadows start working the crossword puzzle.
It's a long walk from the big house to the village,
And just as long going back, but worth it.
Here in Newquay, twenty-odd years later,
The incoming tide says "Time" to the darkness.
The bar beyond the field is closed for ruination.
The Greensboro Review
To The Swallows
You plummeting shards of the darkness,
You rising stars in the light still
Fumbling for the rickety trellis
Of morning, your suddenness fills
The whole unsteady air with whirring
Where we awaken quiet together,
Breathing soundlessly, no least stirring
While your wingbeats alter the weather
Of daylight arriving beyond
The window, quick-feathered rushing
And calling becoming a kind
Of rainfall in Viterbo, brushing
Us over with a mist so fine
The flawed hinges of our shoulders shine.
Magnolias in Late April
You bent to whisper
to a small granddaughter,
Exposing the bald priestly back of your head,
Lifting her then and handing her to me:
See you in April.
Never the same, these northern magnolias,
As the great starred candelabra ghosting,
Even before I left them, the deep-shaded
Lawns of my boyhood.
And yet these too break wholly into blossom,
What somebody called the early petal-fall:
I walk out one day and the limbs are bare;
Then they are burdened
With the flared tulip shapes of opening blooms.
Two rainy indoor days in a row, then out,
The sun is out, and a fallen constellation
Litters the grasses.
What would you be up to this April morning?
Muttering to yourself, looking high and low
For the good stick fashioned out of laurel?
I have it with me.
Patience. Lean back and light another Lucky.
Whatever will kill you dozes in your rib cage.
Read a few more pages in the Little
Flowers of St. Francis,
Then throw a window open on the fragrance
Of even this, the northernmost magnolia.
By now the child you lifted in your arms has
Slipped from their circle
To cherish and polish your crooked old stick
Into a poem of her own so tender and deft
I can hold its wrong end and reach you the worn
Thumb of its handle.
The New Republic
The fairies are dancing all over the world
In the dreams of the President
they are dancing
although he dares not mention this at cabinet meetings
In the baby blood of the brandnew
they are dancing O most rapturously
and over the graves of the fathers and mothers
who are dead
and around the heads of the mothers and fathers who are not dead
in celebration of the sons and daughters
they've given the earth
The fairies are dancing in the paws and muzzles
of dogs larking in the broad field next to the church
The fairies have always danced in the blood of the untamed
in the muscular horned goat
and the shining snake
in the blood of Henry Thoreau
and most certainly Emily Dickinson
And they skip in the blood of the marine recruit
in his barracks at night
his bones aching with fatigue and loneliness
and pure dreams of women
and his goodbuddy in the next bunk
They are most lovely in the eyes of the black kid
trucking in front of the jukebox
at the local pizzeria
more timorous in the eyes of his white friend
whose hips are a bit more calcified
with hereditary denunciation of the fairies
May the fairies swivel his hips
On sap green evenings in early summer
the fairies danced under the moon in country places
danced among native american teepees
and hung in the rough hair of buffalos racing across the prairies
and are dancing still
in some, only in the eyes
in others a reach of the arm
a sudden yelp of joy
reveals their presence
The fairies are dancing from coast to coast
all over deadmiddle America
they're bumping and grinding on the Kremlin walls
the tap of their feet is eroding all the walls
all over the world as they dance
In the way of the western world
the fairies' dance has become small
a bleating, crabbed jerkiness
but there for all that,
a bit of healthy green in the dead wood
that spreads an invisible green fire
around and around the globe
encircling it in its dance
of intimacy with the secret of all living things
The fairies are dancing even in the Pope's nose
and in the heart of the most stubborn macho
who will not and will not
and the fairies will
because he will not
In the Pentagon the fairies are dancing
under the scrambled egg hats
of those who see no reason why youths should live to old age
The fairies bide their time and wait
They dance in invisible circlets of joy
around and around and over the planet
they are the green rings unseen by spaceships
their breath is the earth of the first spring evening
They explode in the black buds of deadwood winter
Welcome them with open arms
They are allies courting in the bloodstream
welcome them and dance with them
- Michael Rumaker
Like immortal cells growing in a dish
the alien swans multiply beyond our wish
for silent beauty. And the buried day rises as a dream—
how to kill the mute swans its theme,
one Tchaikovsky never penned,
is now debated in shore side bars and fens
by oystermen who lift their glasses
in sad farewell to black skimmers and underwater grasses;
they mourn the native tundra swan
and the least tern before it too is gone,
and if alien beauty must be trapped or shot
or poisoned, its nested eggs addled not
to hatch, they're willing to concede
how often beauty breeds dark necessity.
--Michael Salcman, Raritan
DR. WILLIAMS DELIVERS A BABY
Dr. Williams was making his rounds:
one dilapidated house, then another,
powdered oxygen on the aluminum siding,
brown shingles on the roofs.
In between visits, he'd sit in his car
a notebook on his lap and arrange words—
instruments on a surgical tray—
uterine sounds blunt as tire-irons,
scalpels sharper than paper.
Often a cry from within the house
would bring him running past its yard,
past a tomato plant or wheelbarrow or red hen,
things he took in as he sprang
up the porch steps, hoping the family
was already in the parlor, had put the kettle on,
had found clean towels and disinfectant
to swab the wound or welcome the crowning head.
He put down his old-fashioned doctor's bag,
a satchel peaked like a dormer at both ends,
his initials stamped in gold, long ago faded,
and took off his wool overcoat. Tonight,
he noted the burdened book shelves,
responsible chair, the goose-necked reading lamp,
the desk loaded with papers, writing tools
and a folding pince-nez: the father
was a professor or writer of some degree,
who could afford both coal and electric.
He suspected they were Jewish, the mother
of German ancestry, the father Sephardic—
but had no reason to know. In truth
he had only a cursory familiarity with their tribe
and knew no Hebrew. But the mother's cry?
Soon, it was going to be soon. He timed her pain
until a dark spot between her labia grew
and it was time to prep and drape her;
then he encouraged the head with a gloved hand
turned the shoulders and delivered the rest.
Dr. Williams told the father it looked like a writer,
this noisy boy, vigorous and exploring.
They would name him Allen.
--Michael Salcman, Harvard Review
CLEARING THE BRAMBLES
In Old Saybrook, the braided trunks of cedars
shade my Father's face, his legs askew
with the effort of carting lawn chairs to where we wait,
his gravitational platform deserting his desire
to play the host still going strong at ninety-five.
Drinks in our hands we drowse in the sun;
I watch him snatch at sleep like a cat,
gone and back in minutes, his neurons sputtering lamps
decades past the use-by date of his brain.
His nose twitches with the sun, its light flickers
in the maples and birches, rouses swarms of flies and gnats.
Later, my Father and I put seed in the birder
but no cardinals come.
He gets up to work the brambles, pulling up branches
and straggling creepers, snapping them in two
on his knee. He's clearing this field for someone to sell to
--Michael Salcman, The Ontario Review
Small in the big chair, I looked up from my comic book,
suddenly aware of being alone. A boy will look
for Papa when the parlor and thin hallway loom
out of sight. Qui-quiet. How are these new rooms
so cavernous? It was Maywood. We lived here.
The mantle clock began ticking loud, and seared.
I could feel the ticking ticking on top of me.
Swallow. Singed by late-night air, the book fell free
from my hand. My stocking feet felt, felt down
for the hardwood floor to be there, be the ground.
Skinny as the spindled eleven numbers of my age,
I slipped off my father's chair, over the colored pages
fallen to the floor, edging my back on the dark hall-
way's wall to seek the ravel of gold light shawled
around my father's bedroom threshold, the door half-
open, more closed. I could glimpse the pajama’d calves
of his legs. I peeked in and saw him fully there--
on his knees at the foot of the bed, in prayer.
The icon above. His ashen mane bowed to his large hands.
I remember being struck still. Dark and light in bands.
I couldn't move. The wide terror. I was terrified.
My father, mortal. I, mortal. What would never hide
again. Embarrassed, I felt the tongue in my mouth.
I crept back to a different chair, a different house,
a changed hero flying over cities in the comic book art.
Whatever grew small or immense in my heart,
I first saw something larger than the world of us
on a humbled, Sunday night, in sudden fear and trust,
surprising my father on his knees in murmured prayer,
his cupped palms cradling the silver of his full hair.
The New Republic
THE PSALM OF THEN
Then, the Lord heard me in the wilderness of my soul.
Then, the lost place of me became clear.
Then, I recognised distraction for what it is.
Then, I was freed from the desert of diversion.
Then, I was moved to the green oasis within me.
Then, the still voice of the Lord was as the depth of water.
Then, I could cease the constant music in my head.
Then, I could move beyond myself and the noise of myself.
Then, I could hear the smallness of my own voice.
Then, the still voice of the Lord was as the depth of water.
Then, the lost place of me became clear as a cascade.
Then, I could hear the bass of my name.
Then, I heard the Lord in the wilderness of my soul.
Then, stillness and stillness and stillness sang.
EASTER IN THE CANCER WARD
Because it has been years since my hands
have dyed an egg or I've remembered
my father with color in his beard,
because my fingers have forgotten
the feel of wax melting on my skin,
the heat of paraffin warping air,
because I prefer to view death politely from afar,
I agree to visit the children's cancer ward.
In her ballet-like, butterfly slippers, Elaine pad-pads
down the carpeted hall. I bring the bright bags,
press down packets of powdered dye, repress my slight unease.
She sweeps her hair from her volunteer's badge, leaves
behind her own residents' ward for a few hours release.
The new wing's doors glide open onto great light. Everything is
vibrant and clattered with color. Racing
up, children converge, their green voices rising.
What does one do with the embarrassment of staring
at sickness? Suddenly, I don't know where to place
my hands. Children with radiant faces
reach out thinly, clamor for the expected bags, lead
us to the Nurses' kitchen. Elaine introduces me and reads
out a litany of names. Some of the youngest wear
old expressions. The bald little boy loves Elaine's
long mane of hair
and holds the healthy thickness to his face, hearing
her laugh as she pulls him close. "I'm dying,"
he says and Elaine tells him she is, too: too
much iron silting her veins. I can never accept that truth
yet, in five months, she'll slip away in a September
night--leaving her parents and me to bow our heads, bury her
in a white wedding gown, our people's custom.
But right now, I don't know this. Right now, we are young,
still immortal and the kids fidget, crying
out for their eggs. Elaine divides them into teams;
I lay out the tools for the operation.
I tell them all how painting Easter eggs used to be done
in the Old Country. Before easy dyes were common,
villagers boiled onion peels, ladled eggs
into pots so the shells wouldn't break.
They'd scoop them out, flushed a brownish-
red, and the elders would polish and polish
them with olive oil, singing hymns for the Holy Thursday hours.
The children laugh and boo when I try to sing. The boys swirl
speckles of color into hot water, while the girls
time the eggs. When a white-faced boy asks from nowhere
if I believe in Christ and living forever,
I stop stirring the mix, answer, "Yes, I do." I answer slowly
and when I speak, my own voice deafens me.
The simple truth blooms like these painted flowers
riding up the bright kitchen-walls. I come
to belief. I know that much. Still, what a man may
do with belief demands more than what he says.
Now, the hot waters are stained a rich red. The eggs have
boiled and cooled. To each set of hands, Elaine gives
one towel, three eggs. I pass the pot of melted paraffin,
show these children how to take the eggs and dip them in
and out. While the wax hardens to an opaque film, we hum
Christos Aneste and the room bustles, ajabber
with speech. Holding pins firmly, we scratch out mad
designs where the color will fill. Small, flurried hands
etch and scrim the shells. Everyone's fingers whorl
and scratch in names, delicate and final.
Edging the hall's threshold, an April's allow-
ance of sun filters through tinted windows. Faces furrow
in solemn concentration. Looking to Elaine, my thoughts clamor
for what is redemptive in illness, for having
a Credo to hold these people to me. Etchings
done, everyone immerses the waxy eggs in the pooled
dye. We ooh together when transfigured eggs are spooned
out, wiped and dried on the counters. Soft wax
is peeled gingerly, flecked away; more oohs for the tracks
of limned lines, testimonial names.
We burnish the shells with olive oil for a fine sheen.
For a moment, the cultivated, finished eggs hush
the room. Then, every child goes wild in a rush
to compare, to show the nurses, each
other. The bald boy taps my waist. Lined up and speech-
less, they present me with a bright, autographed
egg, communally done. Elaine makes me close my eyes and laughs
when small limbs push at my back to follow
her. They shove my hands in the cool, wet, red dye. The hollow-
eyed girl squeals till tears streak from her laughing.
Another child cries, "You'll never get it off!"
And today, I don't want to. Today,
we've painted eggs a lively color, not caring
about the body's cells and the cells' incarceration.
I lift my arms to embrace Elaine, dab her nose and chin.
And my hands are vivid red. My hands
are bloody with resurrection
and we are laughing.
Featured in “Hands of the Saddlemaker.”
Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, 1992.
In the memory of a street corner
Where their bodies floated
In rain and slid further out
Over their own voices, she held
His hand now under the park trees,
And lifted it into the dark
Where her nipples hardened. He met them
Like a pilgrim in happy embarrassment
For having arrived. They kissed
For an hour, she reported,
And both of them, like chalk on the sidewalk
To the swans, disappeared. She said the trucks
In traffic after that were like toys,
Boy toys and the tarmac under them,
A conveyor belt, so you’d think some god-
Foreman was in control. She had been abducted
By aliens, she said next, with a stoop
In her back, examining insects,
And she didn’t know it until then,
Until the ants had carried off the gob
Of red jelly dropped from her toast
Onto the ground. No one needs permission
Anymore, she said. They’ll freeze your face,
And your eyes like hailstones will fall out
Of their sockets into their palms. You’ll tread
The wind like a steamboat in the trees
And suddenly there will be a hand on your breast
Where the world’s loss used to be.
The Denver Quarterly
The Way Faring Tree
(in memory of Georgia O’Keeffe)
I thought the whole dream, an accidental find,
a very private woman behind a cattle fence
on Ghost Ranch whispering “You’re over-dressed.”
I follow her into the all-night diner
on the highway near Taos. She wears a long turquoise
shawl and silver boots passing
into gold. I’m wearing “the dress of seven
joys and eleven sorrows.” Floppy eggs
on black handled forks are freeze-framed
before our mouths. On the outside edge
of this photograph, her mouth opens
like the gigantic flower she painted under
the full lip of a quarter moon. Robber frogs
barking on the riverbank join the laughter
spinning on the café stools. It is hard
like brutish boys throwing rocks
at the girls’ ankles as they pedal home.
Everyone she holds up to the neon
steer sign is obsidian, an Apache tear
with an invisible hinge rising on one side:
all heart opening. At some point
someone must have cranked open a window,
practicing through a pitch pipe the size of
a rain stick. Swaddled into white bark
she peeled off a birch at the edge of
Lake George one summer, my body
lies as small as a cat’s she can carry
on her backbones to the tree, this woman
I’ve never met face-to-face. I see now
the script we are
approaching: woman, lake, desert, tree.
Advance of the Stranger
At dusk, a semi-nude will be walking
as if resolved, as if on his way to hog heaven
but not without first making you look
at the redness of his red breasts under
the blackness of his black chest hair ––And,
you’ll do it twice before you roll your vision back.
You’re being broken down eight ways to Friday
by Buff Rule, Tuft Luck:
it’s Common Sense who suppresses the growl
for the rule he does not follow. The practical High-Tops &
braided belt he’s wearing won’t assuage her forever.
Daddy’s Little Pole Cat is fractious-ready for
the red pepper spray with the tricky release
tucked inside her slicker pocket.
Sophistica-Poetica wants to contemplate the guy as
she would a ship lit up at night, emerald
floating inside its matrix, impermanent erratic
on the horizon.
Grandma S., with the scorched nail
of her right thumb, crosses the notch
running straight-up the middle of her brow,
looks both ways, and traverses the street
like some elite, world class skier.
Dog-Philo hooked to a leash, barks under
the splotch of her nose, scopes the stranger’s burl
and belly-fur, then tugs out of the late afternoon
a sky-blue ribbon.
It’s the No-Mess Chemist though who understands,
just having poured henna and a warm quart
of beer over her head, who’d never be the one
to abandon, always caught in a gust
like powder for love. She’d never walk
ankle-deep through puddles, but underneath it all
she knows she’s winged––would
die for nothing.
Memory’s Messenger coughs out the last
congested slug of air, a 12th century proverb
about a man’s being proud
as a mountain in labor, but giving birth finally
to an adorable laughable mouse.
It is again––Ms. Augustine––on her rounds,
renewing, opening to God outside of time.
She’s thinking All the numbers have gone eternal,
only the cages children chalked on the sidewalk
She’s thinking Good thing I’m thinking. . .
I’ll loosen that leash a little,
let Groper Boy see below
Philo’s pink gums, let her lip’s curl be that
— he doesn’t have a prayer.
- Jeannine Savard
Hayden’s Ferry Review
we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading
"Tell us scary stories."
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.
And they were silent, the children,
listening to the water
lick the sides of the canoe.
It's what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.
Nomad and Storytelling Journal
TWO THOUSAND DEATHS
Rain pounds New England,
lashes trees. The news.
The children of the poor. The wind
that brings the rain, tail end
of hurricane. The news. Two thousand.
My basement is flooded. Rivers
run to the sea.
A crow commands in early light.
This earth is angry. Hurricane.
The slain are from the poorest states.
A cardinal chirps a clear and delicate word.
Indian reservations. The deep south.
The rich man asked my mother,
Why do you want her to get an education?
Who will run the laundries?
Rain pounds the great spruce tree
beside my window at home.
The president’s mother offered consolation:
the people of New Orleans, she said,
were so poor, they are better off as refugees.
Besides, without them, who will fight our wars?
It is the children of the poor we send
to kill the children of the poor.
Still the mountains. Still the rivers.
An iron moving on freshly washed cotton
“We will not rest or tire
Until the war . . . is won.”
G.W. Bush, October 26, 2005
North Dakota Quarterly
ABOUT, AMONG OTHER THINGS, GOD
The primrose blooms in the garden.
The mourning dove calls in the sycamore tree.
Rain on the sill of the window,
sounds of every kind of weather
are sweet in this old house.
In the pantry, jars of beans,
lentils, sunflower seeds. Sesame. Jars
of preserves, small cans
of spices stand in rows.
It is here.
A woman stands in the doorway
and calls. Her apron bleached from washings
and from hanging in the sun. Behind her,
through the doorway, the house
is dark and cool, and the word
that she calls into the late afternoon,
into the shadows gathering under the lilacs,
into the long, long shadow of the sycamore tree
Colorado State Review
for Gracie Allen, 1906-1964
"Almost everything I know today I learned by listening to
myself when I
was talking about things I didn't understand."
"Mrs. Burns, I love that zany character of yours."
"So do I, or else I wouldn't have married him."
"You mean you understand it?"
"Well, of course! When I misunderstand what you say, I always
what you're talking about."
Home very late
from a Hollywood party, George and Gracie
can hear their
phone ringing, but can't find the key
to get in. George
is vexed, and tired, but Gracie is dying
to wake Blanche
Morton next door and gossip about dancing
with Gary Cooper:
"His belt buckle ruined my gardenia!"
Soon the Mortons
are locked out ("Gracie, did you close
the door?" "No,
but I will!"); the locksmith's tools locked in
(will his jealous
new wife ever believe this?); and the
phone never stops
. . . Day breaks, and George breaks in
through a window.
"I've got a wonderful idea," he announces.
"From now on,
we'll leave a door-key under the mat." "But I
put one there
months ago," Gracie argues, "and we couldn't
get in last
night." The telephone again: who's been trying
to get through?
"Gracie, who was on the phone?" "I was."
"It's not a matter of whether I'm right or wrong
- it's a matter
"Men are so deceitful. They look you right in the eye
while they're doing
things behind your back."
"Don't rush me. It isn't easy to make up the truth."
for a part in a new play whose famous author
is fascinated by
Gracie; but the only role still open is intended
for a middle-aged
actress, sole support of her widowed mother . . .
"I'm a widow
too," Gracie fibs, "and Ronnie supports me!" Smitten,
invites her to dine in his room. "My husband died
in a shipwreck,"
she embroiders, "on our honeymoon." "Lucky
"Oh, I wasn't there." In breezes Ronnie,
and asks for
"Dad." Gracie (thinking fast): "He can never forget
Playwright (bewildered): "But he never knew him."
(triumphant): "If he knew him, he'd forget him!" Enter
Morton" with Ronnie's long-lost father, to unravel
web . . . Blushing, the playwright offers Ronnie a part;
heaven; Gracie's forgiven; the playwright, like George
to applaud her irresistible assassinations.
"I may not be here long."
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, don't I wish I knew!"
"I didn't think people felt this wonderful when they were
going. But, then
again, this is the first time I've gone."
"If you ask me a question and I don't answer, don't be
nervous. Just take
your hats off."
. . . how casually we treated Gracie's illness.
Those pills made me feel very
secure. I figured we could go on this way year after year - it never
my mind that anything would change it. Then one
evening Gracie had another
one of her attacks. I gave her the pill, we held
on to each other - but this time
it didn't work. When the pain continued, I called
Dr. Kennamer, and they
rushed Gracie to the hospital. . . . Two hours
later Gracie was gone.
"He's crazy about
dancing. His new wife has got to be a
dancer." Gracie thinks she's dying--having opened
by mistake Harry
von Zell's telegram meant to save George
from a weekend
seasick on his sponsor's yacht: EXAMINED YOUR
SERIOUS URGE YOU DO NOT LEAVE HER . . . "I'm a
very sick woman,
but my health is so good, I didn't even know it!"
She's had three
agencies send over their most attractive
replace "the late Mrs. Burns": "Sounds like it
won't be easy to
fill her shoes." "What size do you wear?"
"How old was she
when she passed on?" "Well, I'd rather not say -
she hasn't passed
on far enough for that." George, however,
chosen his next wife, who- relieved, reprieved -
George hadn't explained: "It's such a letdown. After
this, how can I
be gay about an ordinary thing like living?"
Every October it becomes important, no, necessary
to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded
by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism,
to confront in the death of the year your death,
one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony
isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive
when it's about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its
incipient exit, an ending that at least so far
the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)
have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe
is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception
because of course nature is always renewing itself
the trees don't die, they just
go out in style, and return in style: a new
Is it deliberate how far they make you go
especially if you live in the city to get far
enough away from home to see not just trees
but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high
speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were
in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves:
so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks
like rain, or snow, but it's probably just
(too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder,
given the poverty of your memory, which road had the
most color last year, but it doesn't matter since
you're probably too late anyway, or too early
whichever road you take will be the wrong one
and you've probably come all this way for
You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won't last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher,
Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You
can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop.
It's what you've come for. It's what you'll
come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll
remember that it felt like nothing else you've
or something you've felt that also didn't last.
never . . .
Unexpected, this Connecticut day melting
winter, seasons still locked in the ground.
False Spring, my neighbor calls out to me
as I watch him rebuild our boundary wall,
bind the land with thriftiness of line. The top
is already spilling over into the dirt; flat rocks
bend down as if yearning to avalanche.
Rehearsed in lifting gravity, realizing that
earth does not repent, then cast out stones,
he points out boulders that his numbed hands
will pry. We can see there is no final resting,
that our spring ritual is just like putting out
a leaking pan to catch rain water for my hair.
Knowing I'm no Robert Frost, my neighbor
is my friend because he takes me, my poetry
seriously. It's my job to watch, to comment,
maybe find a metaphor. Never one to shirk duty,
aware of what I will provoke in him, I offer,
Odd, the tension in unhewn, unmarked stone.
Sure enough, he stops wedging pieces of granite
that are worn to pink, not speckled in gray
like the photograph his uncle took of his father
standing by the base of the Statue of Liberty.
My neighbor never tires of pulling the picture
from his wallet and talking about the statue,
how its foundation is built of our same pink
Stony Creek granite. His grandfather quarried it
in Branford, blasting sections to cut for engineers
with their charts that were fortification against
frost that heaves the earth. Tired out from
all the work, I decide to leave my neighbor here.
In the morning, I'll ask him how he would describe
our wall when muffled in snow or fringed in grass.
Sunset is the good hour for him, spent watching
red tailed hawks float, never measuring days
in hours taken to tie stalks of corn as my father did.
I used to watch Daddy gaze skyward, appearing
to measure Howe Valley fields out of his reach.
I wonder if after all my father was like me, was
looking for stones, for a light to guide him through.
Paterson Literary Review.
In my aquarium the fish went round
and round—kissing fish and clown fish
and something else very blue with a mouth
grimmer than Grandfather’s, whom we could
offend without knowing. Then no amount
of running next door to beg through the locked screen,
what did I do? would help. No amount of
saying sorry, always stammering on the first
snakelike S sizzling into frayed rope.
No amount of whistling to our dog Ruff
would make him stay and not race across fields
as if running were breathing to him.
But we wanted to fondle and smooch,
to throw sticks and have him fetch them right back.
We chained him up because we loved him.
Grandfather must have felt this way about
whatever was inside his head he never let out,
his long list of reasons to be bitter,
that gene he fattened and passed on
to three generations, which probably was
passed on to him, locked midway in the chain,
since his own father caught an infection
from a horse and died just days after
conceiving him. Plant matter to coal, coal
to diamond—things pressed down long enough
turn hard, then a grownup finds them precious
and snarls or hisses when you get close.
I really thought if I stood outside and stared
till I saw the exact moment the streetlight
came on, my dog would speak, my fish would
let me hold his golden fin-flutter to my lips,
and my own dead father would step out from
the vanishing point at the end of our street.
It was winter, so what I got was frostbite
and a weeping mother bathing my hands
in pans of cool water. Still, I wonder,
what if we could reel through our memories
of childhood to the exact moment before
the salt went into the wound, that moment
of pure perception before the hardening began?
Leaning from her arms to hand an apple
to a horse’s brown teeth and velvet nose,
laughing at its warm breath—“Little Miracle”
my grandfather was then, child number ten,
birthed out of his mother’s long black clothes.
Crab Orchard Review
LULLABY IN BLUE
Now the child takes her first journey
through the inner blue world of her mother’s body,
blue veins, blue eyes, frail petal lids.
Beyond that unborn brackish world so deep
it will be felt forever as longing, a dream
of blue notes plucked from memory’s guitar,
the wind blows indigo shadows under streetlights,
clouds crowd the moon and bear down on the limbs
of a blue spruce. The child’s head appears,
midnight pond, weedy and glistening.
It draws back, reluctant to leave its first home.
Blue catch in the back of the mother’s throat,
ferocious bruise of a growl, and out slides
the iridescent body—fish-slippery
in her father’s hands, plucked from water
into such thin densities of air,
her arms and tiny hands stutter and flail,
till he places her on her mother’s body,
then cuts the smoky cord, releasing her
into this world, its cold harbor below
where a blue caul of shrink-wrap covers
each boat gestating on the winter shore.
Child, the world comes in twos, above and below,
visible and unseen. Inside your mother’s croon
there’s the hum of an old man tapping his foot
on a porch floor, his instrument made from one
string nailed to a wall, as if anything
can be turned into song, always what is
and what is longed for. Against the window
the electric blue of cop lights signals
somebody’s bad news, and a lone man walks
through the street, his guitar sealed in dark plush.
Child, from this world now you will draw your breath
and let out your moth flutter of blue sighs.
Now your mother will listen for each one,
alert enough to hear snow starting to flake
from the sky, bay water beginning to freeze.
Sleep now, little shadow, as your first world
still flickers across your face, that other side
where all was given and nothing desired.
Soon enough you’ll want milk, want faces, hands,
heartbeats and voices singing in your ear.
Soon the world will amaze you, and you
will give back its bird-warble, its dove call,
singing that blue note which deepens the song,
that longing for what no one can recall,
your small night cry roused from the wholeness
you carry into this broken world.
Green Mountains Review
I thought city hall might be blown up, but not my street.
The bombs are smart, they can tell what’s residential,
can find a building at night after its workers have gone,
just papers left to fly out of steel cages, wheeling like gulls,
only silent, no rusty hinge, no old fan belt of a cry.
I thought the courthouse’s wood panels might be curled
by the heat, names of accused and accuser mingled in ash.
Maybe the police station, chunks of concrete collapsing
on the garage full of confiscated cars, thin plumes
of smoke rising through skeletal beams.
But not my street with its flower baskets,
its seven schools, two pizza shops, its butcher
selling gourmet food, its shoe repairs, its sewing shop
run by two Koreans. I didn’t expect to see
lawns seared, porches charred, windows blown out,
our family portraits scattered on the street in pools
of water from the firefighters’ anxious dousing.
I didn’t expect people wailing, shaking their fists,
bent over limp children who’d been walking to school.
But I was wrong, wrong. None of this happened,
not here on this street, not downtown. None of it
occurred anywhere outside the green night lens
of my own troubled sleep’s lit-up synapses,
my foolish dream which couldn’t tell fear from truth,
could not distinguish between here there us them.
Even at her funeral they want to talk about him.
All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story.
But those pears, honey, those pears were real sweet.
All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story.
Without them is the rest of my life.
All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story.
Under this wallpaper of willow leaves and birds
is another one with loops of small roses.
Under the yellow roses is lumber that was timber,
a stand of burr oak, maple or pine felled by an ax
that was ore deep in the earth before smelting.
That was ore deep in the earth before smelting.
Photographs fade to a sepia wash.
Still she tells who sat with Aunt Anna
on the front steps in Omaha, Did you get
what you wanted?, who moved West and never wrote again,
who waltzed with Isaac and did you get what you wanted
from this life, even so?
The whole point of composing is to sound inevitable.
My body split open. And lava flowed?
I became a trellis. With tangled vines?
My mother wrapped herself in wind?
Twice I clambered up on the silver table.
The new moon lay in the old moon’s arms.
For italicized lines, attribution to Isek Dinesen,
Kate Barnes, Raymond Carver, Aaron Copland
On the road last night the possum
lay, feet drawn up and freshly red, blood
in a staggered ribbon from the open mouth.
What could we say,
my son and I, what should I, on our way to evening chores?
We trained our lights along bristled fur, slender pointing tail,
teeth sharp as a saw's blade.
Dawn, and she still lay there,
perfect in her early morning repose. Somehow no animal
had found her yet, no tire tracked her blood.
Walking to the river I brushed past hedges all branch and twigs.
A thorn snagged my sleeve, and wind.
Light etched clouds from the darkness over the water,
and on the rise of the far hill, each tree a dark rose on its stem.
All morning my mind returned
to the possum. I remembered the poem about a stillborn cat,
the one eye looking back into his own marvelous body,
laid to rest in a summer field,
and the one about fox bones restored to the woods.
Crow touched down and dipped his beak into possum's mouth,
the last sounds wrapped in her tongue.
Bending, and shy, I pulled thick gloves from my pockets,
draped burlap over and under,
carried possum where earth was opened intimately
and leaves had fallen to cover her up.
This story is not a book unleashing war
to free slaves. Those words come few, and far between.
But for the kitten, the fox and the crow,
for my son and the animals we were
on our way to feed, I carried a possum
to some willows rimming a pond, and buried her. Today,
the year's smallest, was given to me for this and no more,
and these words to tell time by,
though the crow didn't like me much, nor the grackle.
A Comfort Spell
My father’s teeth gap slightly.
Easy to spit seeds,
a natural grace.
“Pa,” I write, “I’m low.”
“Better soon,” he swears. “Soon. Soon.
You’re talkin to one who knows.”
Lord, it’s nearly time. October.
He’ll pick some leaves off our sugar maples,
pressed, send them to New York .
Flat dry leaves,
and rusty rich.
Pa stays in Missouri ,
bets the underdog each tv game,
and the home team, there or away.
“Lord,” he wistles through his teeth,
“that boy’s a runnin fool. Mercy me.”
He names himself:
one of the fightinest!”
Melancholy crowds him spring and fall,
his brain shocked, his smile fraught with prayer.
I offer what remains of my childhood.
I offer up this comfort spell.
Whoever you are, run in nearly morning
to the center of the park.
There, rooted in the season,
maples send out flame.
Gather you to the river the furious leaf.
Mercy Buck Up
Mercy Buck Up
“Pa,” I call, “what’s new?”
“Nothin much. We’re gettin on.”
“Pa,” I sing, “your leaves came today.”
“Oh Maggie,” he cries, “just want
to share the fall.”
-Pushcart Prize III
The sun rose, red as a welt
over the charred brick
facade of a ruined mill,
its windows gaping like eye sockets
above a business district
that would be rebuilt to take in
my great-grandfather from Bavaria,
who was swept up, black hat in hands,
at the unveiling of Robert E. Lee's statue.
He put a Rebel flag in his lapel
to trade with the wounded and the proud
until the Depression spit out his business,
sent him off the third-story balcony,
and my grandfather, shame-faced,
to the tobacco factory, suffocating humidity,
his breath an ember in his throat.
My mother stirred rationed sugar
into her teaâ€”the bag always re-usedâ€”
with monogrammed silver spoons.
At my school, Afros bloomed
like strange mushrooms around meâ€”
get lost, white girl,
in the asphalt heat on the playground;
keep going past the camellia bushes
in my mother's yard overgrown,
at supper every night, her face like concrete;
across the Huguenot Bridge, the metal railing where I fell
in love with the roar and vertigo of the James River;
the dance hall where I skulked in the raucousness
after my boyfriend left, wandered Broad Street,
chicken and ribs joints, vacant
lots where I wove through cones in driver's ed
until I learned enough to speed
away, camshaft churning everything
my car heading north.
House For Sale
when my mother puts my childhood
on the market, I return to wander
the lawn, magnolia blossoms
littered like crushed coffee cups
at the apartment building that went
up in the weeds near the Esso station,
where my best friend and I wriggled
under the chain link fence after quitting
time, tiptoed up plywood stairs
to framed rooms, where we fingered idle
drills, table saws, nail guns,
blew smoke rings out unfinished
windows, spied on everything
we would leave at the houses below –
the wire weave of porch screens
sieving the glow of television
families sparring and guffawing,
everything we wanted
in the humming edges
where the floodlights died away.
The Sow’s Ear
My Father’s Hometown, 20 Years After His Death
I don't know my way down Quarrier or Kanawha,
streets he circled on his two-wheeler, the route
to his old home a thicket of intersections,
no one there, anyway,
living room a travel agency.
If a clerk were keeping Sunday hours,
I would ask for a map of my father's heart,
trace the switchbacks to the spot
where the arteries dead-ended,
and I was left kicking slush
on my way home from school,
whiskers from his morning shave
still in the sink, his body at the morgue.
The concrete steps on the porch are ordinary
as milk in glass bottles, for years
dropped off indifferently, the family
reading the Gazette at the breakfast table,
no place for me then, no place for me now,
coal barges making their way downriver,
mountains cragged against the clouds,
each car a flash of chrome winding through.
Big Ugly Review
Wednesday Oct. 3rd, 1849
all liquored up
retching through Baltimore
polling place to polling place
to Ryan's 4th Ward,
each time a different
dead man, with
his semblance of a life,
and each time
under another name
this same sad man
dying those deaths
a whole gang of votes:
this sorry man
genius of American letters
THERE IS NO TRUTH TO THE RUMOR
there is no truth to the rumor
a goddamned piece of paper
it's not vegetable, but animal
dressed as parchment--
invented in Pergamon
in not yet Turkey
3rd century BCE
when the papyrus ran out
Ionian Greeks called sheets of it
diphtherai, or 'skins'
by the time of Herodotus
writing on skins was common
Assyrians and Babylonians
in what for now is called Iraq
were already writing on skins
writing and rewriting
past traces of earlier writing
on recycled skins
they'd scrubbed and scoured
they wrote what they believed
on something meant to last
rabbinic books weren't books
but scrolls of parchment, as
were, later, early Islamic texts
great civilizations as living cultures
writing themselves on skin
laws, histories, religions, all
on cured skin: split
sheepskin, goatskin, cowhide,
horsehide, squirrel and rabbit
aborted calf fetuses
hairless through and through
as is the skin of angels
would be reserved
for especially precious stuff
yet regardless of grade, without exception,
skin being mostly collagen,
the water in ink or paint
would melt it slightly
creating a raised bed for the writing
like welts on a body
showing what's been done to it
even today, to write on parchment
or color it
the tiniest bit watery
is to bring all this doing up
each writing a rewriting
overwriting the life of skin
so if its breath is gone, its muscles
having lost all sense of purpose
bereft of heart and liver, still
in the heat and humidity
of human and meteorological exertion
it buckles, shifts, sweats and squirms
uplifting a little,
like from a death bed,
giving lie to the rumor
the Constitution is a piece of paper
damned or not
because, even dead, it will let us know
this was a living matter
that was being painted up, written off on
chewed by dogs and lied over
the boy David
one adorable leg
cocked at the knee
a true killer
he wears his helmet
like a bonnet,
its pointy peak
garlanded with laurel leaves
the kid's a winner
the craggy winged
head of the giant, Goliath
Goliath's head is peaceful,
his death like any death
is restful, untroubled
by desire or regret
David's skin glistens, obscurely
under a patina of melancholy
what's wrong with him
he should be dancing up and down
the good guy
victory is the worst thing
that could befall him
in the glass of his great victory,
through the loathsome mist
of world weariness
he sees himself
becoming King David
sees strings of victory
twining into distance
with strings of defeat
how he will conquer
how puff himself up
how he will dance around the sociopathic Saul
how marry, sire, beget
through the brick kiln
a weakness for poetry
will have him writing psalms
again and again—
for all he has won
by this great victory
is his own disaster:
his family, his kingdom, his people
tearing apart and apart
he will go through life
eating flesh by the fistful
choking on shadows
in the improbable blood
of his great victory
he sees all this
and is famished
North Dakota Quarterly
The Church of God in Christ on the Hill
There's nothing more seductive than the basement
of this gated and clapboard building
in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, on a Sunday afternoon when
Sister Walker's got the turkey wings
and the fried chicken and the baked
macaroni and the green beans and candied yams
simmering on every burner in the tiny kitchen
while upstairs all the brothers sing
in witness, hallelujah, and the sisters jog around the church
because their knees don't have arthritis today
and their blood pressure is not up,
and the children sleep on soft cushions,
Sunday clothes pressed and red
and pink and Pastor's black robes flow
like the Nile with the baby Moses directly
to the arms of God. No one cares
Jesus and I are white. That I sit in my pew
one big blush of praise at the trumpets and the drums
and the tambourines in this Baptist orgy of the soul.
No one cares because THEY KNOW HOW TO WAIT.
"You can get by," Pastor Dallas says, "But, honey,
you can't get away." Talking about back-sliders,
talking about lapses of faith, infidelity,
homosexuality, God waiting patiently for revenge. I'm
thinking about the 'coon man out on the street
with those three dead-as-doornail raccoons
he climbed down the sewer to shoot last night
at the crest of his Bacardi high. I'm thinking
about Satan. And my Catholic upbringing
wafts around me like Sister Walker's chicken. As if
I've fasted since midnight, as if I'm eight years old
and Pastor says; "You have to make an ARRANGEMENT
with God." Leaving out the g so I picture myself
arraigned before Jesus and Mary and the Twelve who
never had sex again after they heard the Good News. Those
raccoons laid out on the sidewalk
so quiet and guilty. Lori and I marching
toward the Church of God in Christ on the Hill
with our interracial fallen-away selves. As if
we're standing in the courtroom of God
and we're swaying from the turkey wings and yams
and Pastor Dallas yelling about the prodigal son,
how the father said: "Kill the fatted calf—
Don't eat that slop the pigs eat!"
And Lori says she's so hungry she could eat that slop,
and her grandmother says:
"Don't leave until after the altar call, girls."
But we do, walking down that aisle
as if we were holy. Those raccoons
baking in the sun on Rochester, 'coon man
drinking his first Sunday rum. All over
Bed-Stuy there's religion and sin,
homos and straight people, Pastor and 'coon man,
everyone getting mixed up in the witnessing
and the hunger and everyone
floating down the Nile toward the Pharaoh
In everything that appears to us, showing holds sway…It lets what is coming to presence shine forth, lets what is withdrawing into absence vanish…The saying joins and pervades the open space of the clearing which every shining must see, every evanescence abandon…The saying is a gathering that joins every shining of a showing.--Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language
The month of Mercury found them luminous in rhythms that failed at the sea’s wide horizon—precise as the planet’s backward gaze, its cold fist in the eye.
They spoke sayings so exquisite they chopped themselves into flotsam logics, each a pallbearer of her missed understanding.
They plotted: Dimples of Astroglide on the marble-shined deck, flakes of DNA on the railings.
By May they’d flung away their girl toys and alligator boots into an abandoned evanescence. They were tuckered inside and out.
The saying is a gathering that vanishes every showing of a sex cell swaying. She was delible in her little boat-bed, sailing in and out with the waves.
The saying is a holding that joins every shining of a left breast showing, said the other, running back and forth on shore like Woody Allen.
Up above the widow walk: stars in an abundance of dying. I see them shooting over the sea in summer, one said, and pretend there is nothing more battered than barnacles in this unbartered world, that sometimes even barnacles may get away uneaten.
The other said: Heidegger is still tricky, my little Seahag. Phrases altered to fit your mood or moods altered to fit your libido may not be savvy or kind.
Buber, then. The Indigo Girls. The Barber of Seville.
Now the heart thrums between pubis & meridian. There is a stream of women chasing each other across the eleven layers of the universe, occasional places where everyone’s face is sun-licked and untortured.
One swims in the expedient sea, the other at the Y with her faux-husband Dave (for the discount).
The saying is a clearing that sways every joining of a silence opening. When they arrive in the clearing one will stink of bluefish, the other of chlorine. All that needed to be said has been said. All that waits to be shown is shining.
CAVE OF THE YELLOW VOLKSWAGEN
From a deep well, pumped through polyvinyl and copper pipe, then out a faucet
Disrobing, you draw a bath, soap every round and crevice, lean back, cleared of forethought
From an earthwork catchment a half day’s walk from the aqal. Fill two bladders stitched of skins, pack them on the camel
After sex, the ritual cleansing—the dipper, the shallow bowl. Left hand wets a cloth and runs it over the rip in the stitched vagina
Gift of light, finger of wind and palm of gravity. In the song about water you are singing a song about water
The last infrastructure frontier for private investors
In the convoy escaping the city fifteen women came into labor at once. There was no water for the midwife to wash her hands. There was no water to wet the women’s lips. What can assuage the terrible thirst of the women? They left the ground beneath the galool tree covered with membrane and placenta
Discontinuities are likely. We will be well positioned to profit even more significantly when they occur
In the camp, there was no water to wash our clothes. The bandits entered. The shame of semen is ever in my nostrils
Water carried the house downstream. The flood was steel brown and thunderous. No one could stay away. It was like seeing blood coursing through the arteries of God
Sliding down the throat, cooling the tube of the esophagus. A small wave arriving in the stomach’s pool
Earth come of lullaby of earth
Covered in ferns, the fertile sori dark against fronds
Punctuated by sisal and acacia. Long roots spread horizontal veins across the surface
Owned, unownable and whose to know
Young man, who are you shooting at?
The figure that moves across it, stipe and blade brushing her shins
Teeming with micropresence
Me? for there is no enemy in sight
Though Eloquence, you say, is a vice in women, I am no camel and I will speak
We labor to bring forth
Dig out the long, fist-thick galool root and plant both ends, the perfect arc between
This is the vault of her vessel
Home’s body, rubbing wool to flesh
Earth supplies everything that goes into it
Ribs of galool, sisal stripped, dried, pounded, shining women woven mats longer than bridal trains the house’s skin. A woman is valued by her mats
Skins are her trousseau. A woman is valued by the smoothness of her skins
The house a body, portable, a turtle shell and all that seethes within
Birth fluids should be spilled where blood has spilled, you say, trading our girls as wives
Though the breast that contains milk cannot, you say, contain intelligence, my lullaby will tell the truth
I have tasted the comfort of home again. Don’t drive me off on fear’s caravansary
The vulture has already circled my bones and the bones of my children, tucking its wings
White for anger, white for sorrow. We tied white bands around our heads
A Darker, Sweeter String
Living as a wild thing
It is here, in the Republic of the Imagination, that we are most humane.
—Azar Nafisi, “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of”
Listening to Brahms, riding out on the strings, I realize that war has become the landscape of my imagination and ask, what if I withdraw that recognition
In the name of the raven—(c)rraugh—who occupies the sky
In the name of those who have passed into the thickness of thought, that we wear like a hood and mantle
In the name of the pine duff and the green stars that feed on our remains
It’s raining in Teheran. Crackety crack go the drops on the skylights. A student is lying in bed listening to rain’s language, thinking how, like a lover, it disinters the mind
In Teheran, when people wish to empty their hearts they turn to poetry
And swallows will lay eggs / in the hollows of my ink-stained hands
Come, come, whoever you are. / Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
In love with a wild thing. In love with a face and the secrets it covers
A student plays Brahms through the crescendo/decrescendo of sirens
A bow waves like an épée over the belly of a cello
All winter, snow falls on Teheran, whitening the grey city, lightening the student’s steps
The violin bow is a strand of mercury drawn down ever so slowly until the last of it rests on the string. I hold my breath while the aftertone condenses to a silver bead
A Darker, Sweeter String
I was in a car with David Letterman when he quite
unexpectedly proposed marriage. He did it in that offhand, ironic, deadpan,
winning way of his, but I could see that he was serious. "Well, all right, I
guess," I said. "But," I added in afterthought, "I'm not gay, and I didn't think
you were either." David took a puff of his cigar and assured me that he was not
gay, and that he chose me partially because I wasn't gay. And that, he said, his
voice rising excitedly, was the beauty of it! When the news was released, the
media would surely portray us as pioneering heros: two men who, even though
straight, chose to marry each other. The show's ratings would go through the
roof. David would suddenly become the most admired celebrity in the world,
immune to criticism. And the fact that he was marrying, not a Hollywood type,
but a nobody, would only add to his luster. Here he turned to me and apologized,
"For that nobody thing — Sorry." I told him it was all right; I was a nobody.
We were stopped at a light, and when I looked around I saw that all the other
cars were being driven by animals of some kind — a moose eyed me morosely from
the wheel of a Hummer to our right, an Emperor Penguin stood upright in the P.T.
Cruiser windshield behind us, and so on. "David," I began, hesitantly, "Will
we…will we sleep in the same bed?" There was a horrible screech as tires gnawed
asphalt and David wove, needle-like, through traffic, finally lurching to a halt
amid dust and flung gravel on the shoulder. He turned his large, red face to me.
"Don't you ever," he said, "speak such filth in my car — my beautiful car —
again." "Ok, ok, ok," I said. "Take a chill pill, jeez." Back in the flow of
traffic it was very quiet, and I had time to meditate on several pressing
issues, such as: Had I been wrong to say yes so quickly? And: This universe is
strange and fleeting, but is it really that much more so than the one I call my
life? And: That orangutan, the one in the silver Jetta, did he or did he not
just give us the finger?
The White Shoe Irregular.
Whistler needs no one to sit for him now.
He is finished with portraits, with people.
Finished with nocturnes too, soft edges,
the muted light of a coastal fogscape.
He needs surprise. He wants to be outside
with a panel of wood, a thumb box of colors
and brushes, and nothing to hold him in place.
Bring on the war of sea and shore, clouds
blown apart. Autumn daylight like a shock
to the heart stirs him to life. He is after
the spontaneity of a breaker turned back
on itself. What is a whitecap but a stroke
of wind on wave, the Lord's own breath
in a flash of foam? Away too long from storm,
from the sea's surge, he feels himself awaken
before the horizon's shifting form, where time
itself is visible to the naked eye, where a ship
caught in a trough struggles to right itself.
The Southern Review
Uncle Grossman quotes the Greeks
and the gods
and says the Great One knows when
falls to a field, then he clears
with the sound of a brake yanked
Grossman, our childless nuncle,
his avuncular head hard against
the bird feeder.
As seed fills his fedoras rim, he
Pain makes a world that would
except for pain. On the
way to dinner,
Uncle Grossman describes his
a woman with five bulldogs, and
who sneaks him endless xanax.
Life is comic, he says, and
life is tragic.
Uncle G. orders his favorite dish,
but does not recommend it.
Although our uncle has not been
he booms with the strength of the
against white chocolate, the
and Galileos fate. When a small
asks us to drive faster, his uncle
No matter how many cars you
you cannot pass the car ahead
Its a rainy evening when we see
him to the bus.
The long aisle of windows steams,
and we wave goodbye to Uncle
through the little circle of
he keeps rubbing clean with the
heel of his fist.
The Atlantic Monthly
I DREAMT I WENT TO HELL WITH
He promised me a sail on his Swan
but off the bay
he steered wrong
and soon we faced a fork
swung by the Dark One.
Charles had the tender jowls
of a new senator,
no rent worries ever pitched
their tents there,
packed up, pitched again.
The greasy, dented cheeks of Satan
mirrored my own lumped
and pointy features, no symmetry.
He asked us to explain who had
our lives, moved us most, fathered
our fates, the friends who failed
Charles confessed first: he never
had a second thought, just
As for me, I had only second
and therefore never...
For these crimes
we were condemned
to fathom each other through a
Charles understood me right away:
burnt coffee, aspirin, envy.
The rich man tasted familiar, like
a penny, a miniature copper mine,
blood from a fish hook wound,
and the fish, and the hook, and
Its tough, isnt it, star,
to be harangued
by every strain
of brimming heart?
Its hard, isnt it, moon,
when crowds fidget
with their swizzle sticks
as you brighten the bay?
And head, doesnt it hurt
when love ignites
its pesky orbit
and all logic strays?
Hot, isnt it, sun?
Admit its a relief, shade,
to wear camouflage
while the flamboyant
Go ahead, god,
and blame this mess
and flesh on free will.
Thats life, isnt it, death,
along the steep drive home
with wreaths and bouquets?
The Atlantic Monthly
He is waiting to be seen.
In this world I hardly matter.
What goes into the dark
to be seen? Nothing like me.
There is a festival of fireflies
in Muju-gun in August
where people pray for firefly prosperity,
in Korea, since the Japanese
exterminated their fireflies
experimenting with insecticides.
Firefly is a Japanese idea.
The one in my yard lives alone.
To be so solitary while signaling
for love, to be content knowing
the night has no real presences
except for the one who makes himself
their flickering mirror. Who ignites
and diminishes as they would.
How do we lose a lovely idea?
Desperate we don’t count.
Who wouldn’t prefer a fullness of fireflies
in their habitat? The males
flying while they flash for the females
who wait in the tall grass and flash back.
The fullness is one idea.
The idea must not matter
so that one firefly suffices for a thousand years.
The entomologists take us further.
They ask us to reflect
that the firefly is not a true fly. It is a beetle.
Six thousand steps,
'every step an arrival.'
On the way up, I’m thinking
... what to say when I pass
through the South Gate
to Heaven, as soon I must?
History has it
I’m supposed to say
for example, looking down,
said: 'The world is small.'
At the Temple of Azure Clouds,
an old Chinese woman
with bound feet and walking
stick--a peasant woman,
a supplicant--appears to me.
Is she my mother?
Shall I say,
having climbed the mountain,
'I have climbed the mountain,'
am there, and will live
one hundred years?
The Han Emperor Wu,
who, twenty-one hundred
years ago, rejected
his writers submitted,
has a monument too:
a wordless, blank stone--
on which I can write anything,
the Emperor being dead.
Silence is unforgettable, wise.
He has a tattoo that begins at his shoulder
and weaves like the track of a drunken bee,
in straightaways and sacred Sioux loops
down his right side to his calf.
My scar, he calls it. Luis carries a shiv
in his pocket, the kind that flicks open
a five-inch blade by pushing a little
silver button. He uses it to cut twine
and whittle garden stakes, although once
he took it out at the mall
to pare a nail and was asked to leave
by a shaky-voiced clerk
His dark hair hangs in a ponytail
halfway down his back. Sitting on the sofa
with him, Cait will idly twirl her fingers
through it, just as she did with her own
blonde curls at age three. Luis
has dark liquid eyes, dark skin, speaks
in a husky voice, reads Rudolf Steiner
and cosmic almanacs, wants to start a farm
in the Cordilleras of Puerto Rico.
He keeps bees, treats their stings as if
they were my daughter’s kisses,
swears by the geometry of the honeycomb.
When the women are away, we sit at the table
in the awkward manner of men with too much
to say. We talk about the trio of banished
roosters that crowed so evilly he offered to slit
their throats. He finishes his yogurt topped
with bananas and wheat germ, while I down
the last of the leftover chicken and try not
to think that I am nothing like the father-
in-law he has imagined. I wash, he dries.
I picture my daughter tracing the tattoo
with her finger. We move to the porch
in the half-dark of early evening, hoping
to ease this strangeness, like castaways
suddenly in the same raft, facing the prospect
of terminal togetherness. We listen to the pond
fountain gurgle, the last greedy bees
lifting off from the clover. I ask him how
the soil feels in Puerto Rico. He says it crumbles
in your hands. He speaks haltingly, fervently
of the farm they will build together. I try
to picture coffee plants, green beans to red,
the babies they will make, one at her pale breast,
grandchildren the color of raw honey.
The Broome Review
The Spaces Between
What insistent whispering crowds out sleep?
It coats me like pollen, buoys me against
the weight of daylight, points to the spaces
between things. When I press my fingertips
together, diamonds appear. Between tree limbs,
stairs spiral skyward. Below birds’ wings,
above pages in books, a sky bowl catches light
and our hope for overflow.
Between pebbles in the garden, a seed,
architect’s plans scrolled and tucked away.
Trapped light waits to climb the stairs
and unfurl. Everywhere the geometry
of branchings. In darkness tree roots
coil over and under each other, fortified
tenfold by their interlacing,
like fingers praying.
The numbers of the body do not lie.
Oneness loves itself into symmetry,
mirrors of arms and legs ending in the surprise
of fives. Between the singing of our skeletons,
the fountain of dead-seeming bones.
We forget where blood is born.
And if every bone fits into its rightful joint,
what is the skull’s socket?
When we press our bodies together,
a raft bobs between two blues.
Sun and full moon make a seesaw
at the edges of the world. Gold and silver
fall like shavings, float into the middle,
where we always want to be. Even in extremity,
when we fall out of the between, we keep
saving each other, over and over.
The Café Review
The Fire Starter
“Scatter as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I relish tossing
the live match
into raspy roadside grass
or starting small
with the tiniest
steeple of twigs
just enough tinder
to nurse a fragile flame
laying on larger brush
gingerly as if springing
the trigger of a trap
sticks a finger’s width
then a wrist’s until it catches
a low guttering that grows
like a great flurry of feathers rising
in the echoing calm after a gun shot
then the elation of the uncontainable
the wild leaping flames
the sheer scale of destruction I too yearn to see
my work spread far beyond my material reach
the jackrabbit fireballs
flushed into the open zigzagging crazily desperate
to put themselves out but only igniting
more brush until the whole dazzling scene
crackles with brimstone and burning bushes
The Café Review
A musket ball burrows through a body
Pulverizing every bone it's introduced to-
Later, bone-powder caking on a saw blade,
Arms in a heap, as though lolling,
A leg dropped into a large metal bucket.
"A horrible sound," he recalled years later.
"I had to listen to it so I could help them
Write their loved ones." Walt Whitman,
A sun umbrella going tent
To tent in the outdoor surgical wards-
Sitting with the mutilated, the soon
To be discharged, wild flowers all around
Cheering spring on.
Then coaxing the letters home.
Winter comes about by certain shifts.
At dusk on the pond the mallards mumble
and hunker into their dark silk water.
A wood duck's piping like a blade slants in
through the rosy air. A katydid waits
for an answer.
I feel a slight tugging. There is a need
to turn and say goodbye but
the fire is lit
and people are coming in
the front door. It is not easy
to know what is leaving
or when it left.
The Sow's Ear
Old Timey Flight
Sam lays his cheek to the nut brown shell
With its scroll and curliques waiting.
He draws the bow across a string, drinks in
The wine colored note as it hums
Straight to his blood a strand
Of "Rock Andy" in the key of A.
He drives it high,
Makes it shimmer like glass in the sun,
Swoops it down back up and around
Like a swallow on the wing again and again
Bringing to himself the spirit
Of Luther Strong that fine old fiddler
Back back in time this tune
Having taken off like a kite in the blue.
When I am the lone listener to the antiphony of crickets
and the two wild tribes of cicadas and let my mind
wander to its bogs, its sloughs where no endorphins fire,
I will think on occasion how all memory is longing
for the lost energies of innocence, and then one night -
whiskey and the Pleiades, itch from a wasp sting -
I realize it is nearly half a century since that nightmare
in Money, Mississippi, when Emmett Till was dragged
from his uncle Mose Wright's cabin by two strangers
because he might have wolf whistled at Carolyn Bryant,
a white woman from whom he had bought candy,
or maybe he just whispered "Bye," as the testimony
was confused and jangled by fear. The boy was not local,
and Chicago had taught him minor mischief, but what
he said hardly matters, and he never got to testify,
for the trial was for murder after his remains were dredged
from the Tallahatchie River, his smashed body with one
eye gouged out and a bullet in the brain and lashed
with barbed wire to a cotton gin fan whose vanes
might have seemed petals of some metal flower, had Bobo
- as friends at home called him - ever seen it. And why
this might matter to me tonight is that I was not yet eight
when the news hit and can remember my parents at dinner -
maybe glazed ham, probably hand-whipped potatoes,
iced tea sweeter than candy, as it was high summer -
shaking their heads in passing and saying it was a shame,
but the boy should have been smarter and known never
to step out of his place, especially that far South. Did I
even guess, did I ask how a word or stray note could give birth
to murder? He was fourteen, and on our flickering new TV,
sober anchormen from Atlanta registered their shock,
while we ate our fine dinner and listened to details
from the trial in Sumner, though later everyone learned
the crime occurred in Sunflower County, and snoopy
reporters from up north had also discovered that missing
witnesses - Too Tight Collins among them - could
finger the husband Roy Bryant and his step-brother
named Milam as the men in the truck who asked, "Where
the boy done the talking?" and dragged Emmett Till
into the darkness. His mother Mamie, without whom
it would have all passed in the usual secrecy, requested
an open-casket funeral, so the mourners all saw the body
maimed beyond recognition - his uncle had known
the boy only by a signet ring - and Jet magazine
then showed photos, working up the general rage
and indignation, so the trial was speedy, five days
with a white jury, which acquitted, the foreman
reporting that the state had not adequately established
the identity of the victim, and I don't know how
my father the cop or his petite wife the Den Mother
took it all, though in their eighties they have no love
for any race darker than a tanned Caucasian. I need
a revelation to lift me from the misery of remembering,
as I get the stigma of such personal history twisted
into the itch of that wasp sting. Milam later told Life
he and Bryant were "guilty as sin," and there is some
relief in knowing their town shunned them and drove
Bryant out of business, but what keeps haunting me -
glass empty, the insect chorus fiercer, more shrill -
is the drama played out in my mind like a scene
from some reverse To Kill a Mockingbird - or worse,
a courtroom fiasco from a Faulkner novel - when
the prosecutor asked Mr. Wright if he could find
in the room the intruder who snatched his nephew
out of bed that night, and the old man - a great uncle,
really - fought back his sobs and pointed at the accused,
his finger like a pistol aimed for the heart. "Dar he,"
he said, and the syllables yet echo into this raw night
like a poem that won't be silenced, like the choir
of seven-year insects, their voices riddling strange
as sleigh bells through the summer air, the horrors
of injustice still simmering, and I now wonder what
that innocence I miss might have been made of -
smoke? rhinestones? gravied potatoes followed
by yellow cake and milk? Back then we called
the insect infestation ferros, thinking of Hebrew
captivity in Egypt and believing they were chanting
free us, instead of the come hither new science
insists on, but who can dismiss the thought
that forty-nine years back their ancestors dinned
a river of sound all night extending lament
to lamentation, and I am shaken by the thought
of how easy it is for me to sit here under sharp
stars which could mark in heaven the graves
of tortured boys and inhale the dregs of expensive
whiskey the color of a fox, how convenient
to admit where no light shows my safe face
that I have been less than innocent this entire
life and never gave a second thought to this:
even the window fan cooling my bedroom
stirs the air with blades, and how could anyone
in a civilized nation ever be condemned for
narrowing breath to melody between the teeth,
and if this is an exercise in sham shame I am
feeling, some wish for absolution, then I have to
understand the wave of nausea crossing me,
this conviction that it is not simple irony
making the whir of voices from the pine trees
now seem to be saying Dar he, Dar he, Dar he.
-for McGraw and Marvell
You live bits of the first Big Bang
Burning to turn each other on
As ships blink Morse charting the murk,
Or Yin winks to rekindle Yang,
Let crusted contact points be drawn
To contact points, then close the circuit.
Gilt specks in my prospecting pan,
Flecks in night's lapis lazuli,
Midsummer's flickering Christmas strings
Whose random constellations can
Alter our sky-signs augury
By linking dots to outline Things,
I am the mower, Snodgrass, known
Through fields and meadows run to seed,
Undertended and overgrown
With ragweed, sneezewort and neglect
So moths lay eggs and fireflies breed -
You are the harvest I collect.
Forgive those finger rings we children
Forged from your torsos' fading brilliance;
Join in my Mason jar, my glass
That lucidates dark worlds when filled
By your good kith and kin whose millions
Excite, reaching to critical mass.
I've loafed all summer at my lawn
Chirping songs bawdy and improper;
Now though my chords have soured or gone,
Leaving me like some dumb weedhopper
Whose half-cracked voice will never mende,
Let axon still sing out to dendrite.
Enter my net and neural network,
You glints that arc old synapses;
Though I've grown stiff and gray and can't learn
New songs or finger the known fretwork,
You wouldn't leave Diogenes'
Ghost out here looking for his lantern?
The Discreet Spoils of a Reichstag Fire
No accident or natural catastrophe
Can help you much; shared labor, like shared losses, takes
The cursed edge off men's differences and makes
Strangers believe they could be friends. And obviously,
Survivors are the last to crave retaliation
Against some high gods' mandates or an impartial
Nature. Intended damage is what binds us all
In enmity against an alien folk or nation
As yet unspecified - one blessed by more resources
Than they deserve or situated to attack
Whoever has, assuming also that they lack
The moment's latest weaponry or well-trained forces.
One can speak vaguely, though, of obscure threats: forbidden
Stores of nerve gas, maps drawn for chemical or germ
Offensives. As Herr Goering said, "We have firm
Proof of our own Reds' arsenals, stockpiled and hidden."
One's first ploy lies in offering the Reichstag a Decree
For the Protection of the People and the State;
When that's gulped down, a second Law to Alleviate
The Misery of the People, termed more commonly
The Enabling Act - so cushioning the suspension
Of free speech, press and assembly while condoning
Search, seizure, opened mail, tapped wires and phones
Or wounds earned during undefined "protective detention."
The Reichstag castrated, you can look down with contempt
On all schemes subjecting your designs to higher orders
And outworn treaties. No land on earth can now claim borders
Or air space sealed against your title to preempt
And set straight. It may trouble you to execute
Thousands you've "conquered" but who still spurn your command;
One triumph, though, should comfort you: in your homeland
Your least wish is the law and your whim absolute.
The New York Quarterly
For the Third
Marriage of My First Ex-Wife
too virtuous far
too long to be
much good to
anyone in bed,
much less in their
you can't be a
virgin more than once?
backward on all fronts,
know-nothing tribes that can't
guess how they
keep on getting pregnant--
not once in twelve
years had we laid
each other right.
What we had made
parenting a child.
The world lay all
before us, where
fine ideals and
low lusts entangle
in the heat
and dirty virtues
of the street.
can tell you more
than those adults who taught
conduct. Or did not,
blinking at facts
that might assuage
well before our age
with its synthetic
Viagra and penile
still recovering from
her own divorce,
but who's become
a father, in her
call at least
as an Episcopalian
will fly down
there to officiate
in linking you to
your third mate;
only some twenty
married me also
to the last of my
This spinoff of
our unspent lives
still joins us
(though to others) saying: clamp fast
to what's worth
holding. Also, save the best for last.
A flood of sunlight drenches this lush lawn,
and splashes radiance on nearby trees;
Pythagoras divides the summer dawn
into the cosmos, multiplies by breeze
and quality of drifting yellow light
to calculate how many roses thrive
within the boundary of his circling sight.
His answer's seven but he sees just one,
its scarlet shimmering in early sun.
But faith in truth of math endures despite
this failure; now, as mockingbirds arrive,
their music theorem for math's harmonies,
he calculates how long he might survive
to stroll at dawn, to count the shining leaves.
TALK BETWEEN LEAF AND SKIN
A drifting leaf flattens itself
against your forehead, in the rain.
Tingle...its skeletal delicacy traces
the history of wood against dewy skin
and you arrest the impulse to cast it off,
letting your hand drift back to your side.
It has more to tell you: the pain it feels
each October, the parallel between its notched edges
and convolutions in your brain,
filament veins in its green thin flesh
and how they spell out genetic Scripture
of the same sort that's proclaimed your being,
a mere inch or two in the passage of eons
separating its spear from your five fingered hand.
Almost as if it's a map of synapses
from which once arose the snap of thought
in fog of primordial simmer.
But then a gust of wind tears it
sharply away, as if flesh from bone
that in trans-species love craved its gentle
adhesion. Much more could have been said
but when you pluck a replacement
from the shadow of towering oaks
and press it to your forehead,
all you get are cold and silence
in the sting of autumn rain.
WHAT THE WIND KNOWS
Be not dismayed at winter's icy breath,
at jagged winds that tear, and whirl fresh snow,
revealing rock as chill and still as death,
since balm of rose awaits thee soon below.
The very wind whose frigid hands thou feelst,
those daggered enemies of flesh and bone,
transforms to sweetness, hands that soothe and healst,
when thou descends into the southern sun.
Here other hands await, mine dewed with love
as roses are asplash in April's rays,
their petals plucked by breezes on the move
from icy Alps to open-windowed days.
Our bed awaits thee, strewn with wisps of rose,
my longing more than any the wind knows.
Included in the novel,
the Sonnet Lover,
by Carol Goodman
Ballantine Books, 2007
I'm walking State Street when this bare-armed girl
comes fetching up beside me at a light,
a lovely Oriental-looking letter
tattoo'd on her fine arm below the shoulder.
I ask her if the tattoo'd mark is Sanskrit—
"Arabic." (We're crossing). "It's for "Ah la!"
which brings a smile, until I hear her: "Allah."
"It's beautiful," I offer from the heart.
"Thank you"— there's a tremor to her voice—
"thank you…very much." Her tall young life
is filled with every grace, and yet it seems
she hasn't heard of beauty near enough.
I turn, I nod and smile and wave goodbye,
letting the distance lengthen then between us
as one who'd chanced to pay a passing reverence,
and she uncertain, in her glory days.
-- Barry Spacks
WITHIN ANOTHER LIFE
Those whose days were grudging or confused
may end up trapped within another life
as a boulder or a pane of glass
or a door that suffers every time it's slammed.
If I return a boulder, love, some summer day
come sit by me and contemplate these horses and these hills.
And if a windowpane, gaze through and see
the meadow on our walks where brown geese strut.
And if I am a door, come home through me,
be sure I'll keep you safe.
And if a knotted, twisted rope
from long self-clenching and complexity,
oh love, unbind, unbraid me then
until I flow again like windswept hair.
-- Barry Spacks
I know, I know, if Ernest Hemingway
had savored the chicken bits
in piquant sauce
at the great Dim Sum Restaurant
in Monterey Park, California, he
still would have...could have…
or if Richard Brautigan
toward the withered end
had paused for the scallops at the Dim Sum,
or ordered the platter of three
huge cream-filled dumplings, still he…
I know, I know, stupid thought,
but if only
John Berryman...Anne Sexton...
if Sylvia Plath...Primo Levi...
if Kathryn's father…Robert Hazel…
if Marilyn Monroe...
-- Barry Spacks
The road is dust,
and the town is dust,
and even my mother
is dust. But here,
set back among the pines,
a teahouse long and low
where we sit like ancients,
cradling lacquered cups.
Outside, the storm of afternoon.
The dust of existence.
Then the storm passes.
The bamboo shines.
For years what pursued us?
What did we pursue?
Now we are here,
in a teahouse of the mind,
where a cherry tree blooms
and passes into summer,
where autumn blazes up,
and then the snow, falling
with a stillness that fills
my heart like a cup
in the moment before
the tea is poured.
My friend, sit with me
for a little while.
Let us cleanse ourselves
of the dust of existence.
The Kenyon Review
When I was a girl in Lexington, I would stare at the swirled
ceiling and feel the world contract; close my eyes
and watch my body expand hugely so that it overgrew
the frame of my perception, stalkish and quick-
growing, the top and edges beyond
my sight and also, simultaneously, grow infinitely small
and then smaller, being spirited backward and away
like an astronaut: feet, arms out, fingers splayed and pulsing
in the drift from ship.
In these moments of great dread--I have
no other word for what this was--I would think, this is what it
to be both. Winters under my window, bonfires
in the gutter drains. Seven p.m. twilight lit snow
and sledders down Monticello Boulevard. My mother's fears
kept me at the sill. Breath frozen to glass. Mottled shag
carpet. Blue and blue and blue. An ocean under my hand.
In This Dream of My Father
there is a canister
vacuum in the middle of an empty
living room. He calls
from inside it, as if from a half-way
point, some clever Purgatory of home
appliances, in which the souls
of departed businessmen
must learn to abide among dust
bunnies and loose
His dead voice,
like the sound of a dinner
bell clanging against a dust cloth,
rings in the dream vacuum
like a prayer for intercession,
a muffled imperative to me,
his first daughter:
Help me, he says. I'm
going the wrong way.
The Connecticut Review
Onions & Potatoes
-for Kim & after Levine
I thought I had learned certain things
from my life:
speak up, slow down, be intentioned, praiseful
and ravenous. Tonight, freshly grieving the loss
of a man I had come to love too well, I brushed
watercolors into irregular slubs of brown paper-
bright fish and birds, all swirl and feather. I ate
noodles with peanuts and scallions and cabbage
and felt the red rift in me-open as a mouth
waiting to be fed. I was a child tonight,
and my emptiness would not be quelled
except by your onions and potatoes: small and round
and exactly pain-sized, I received them through a hard
clench of tooth and jaw-I did not want comfort;
could not pronounce its hard consonants-and rolled them
between molar and cheek, held them under tongue.
Sweet onion, translucent as the thin pink skin beneath my eyes;
red potatoes tight and insistent inside cracked and bursting skins,
I will save you for tomorrow and for the day after that:
when I've given up on finding metaphors to describe this
or any vermilioned plume of loss; when, with the failure
of descriptive language, I turn back to the root:
to sweet Jersey corn grown up gold from the raw
and hungry fields of this new muscle.
Clackamas Literary Review
A mile from home I find the plastic bag
torn off my mums by last night’s cold front wind.
It clings to chain link, one corner still knotted,
a deflated ghost. I pluck it off the fence,
thinking of lots of things I’ve lost forever.
What if they all came back this easily?
And I imagine a reverse tornado
roaring overhead straight to my house
and dumping everything on me at once.
First all the pairs of shoes I’ve ever worn--
my green spike heels, red sneakers, Buster Browns,
pumps, flats, wedges, thongs, and sandals
all piled on the lawn next to Christmas sweaters
and snowflake mittens. And all brand-new!
Over here’s my bike, a blow-up kiddie pool,
boxes of mystery novels, a bassinet,
my stolen jewelry box, and the blue bikini
I wore in Nice when I was twenty-two.
The tree branches are full of board games,
Monopoly and Clue and Shoots and Ladders.
My paint-by-numbers rests on the hard black sofa
where I sat drinking Gallo Rhinegarten
on Church Street, and here’s the fondue pot
that caught fire—everything’s mine again
and I dig through mounds and heaps and piles
of clothes I’d forgotten, suitcases, dolls,
waving at people who pass on the sidewalk
thinking this is the season’s biggest yard sale—
“No, this is all mine!”—rooting again,
amazed at the great hill of belongings, wondering
where I’ll put all this stuff now that it’s back.
But I’m busy swinging my old tennis racket,
trying on mini-skirts, calling my dog—
make that plural—for all three of them are here
though they really succeeded each other,
Casey and Casey II and Skipper,
dashing around in the spoils, barking happily.
Then I notice my father stumbling over
a load of toasters and coffee makers,
and stopping thoughtfully, just as he did in life,
to clean his glasses after he notices
the shiny ’72 Datson on my roof;
so I step back to consider this big mess
that’s blocking the front door of my house,
realizing that I’ll never get back inside
where the present waits in quiet empty rooms
unless I abandon every single thing.
“Her performance with cup and ball was marvelous.”
Jane Austen’s steady hand could catch a ball
Over a hundred times in a wooden cup.
Tired of Genji, Murasaki rolled up
Her scrolls, then asked her servants to install
The Go board. Emily Dickinson baked
A black cake soaked with her favorite brandy.
Virginia Woolf took walks. Over whist and tea
The Brontes soothed their passionate outbreaks.
If a girl betrayed her, Sappho got upset,
But took a swim until inspired to rhyme.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning loved to buy
Antiques for the Casa Guidi. So why regret
An idle day? The “genius” Gertrude Stein
Bathed her poodle, and waited for him to dry.
EDWARD LEAR’S SHOPPING LIST
“they dined on mince and slices of quince”
Never enough cake so he dreamed of quince.
Words filled his hungry mouth with their sweet taste:
Shrimps, winkles, pancakes, cucumbers and mince.
The youngest child of twenty, thin as a fence,
He dug in. Forked up. Nothing went to waste.
Never enough cake so he dreamed of quince.
Oh Dumplings! Oh Custard Pudding! He could convince
His stomach with his pen, and so he laced
Nonsense with periwinkle soup. Hot mince.
Buttercups fried with fish? It made good sense.
Cold apple tart for breakfast? He wrote in haste.
Never enough cake so he dreamed of quince
Sliced or jellied. He wanted his loaves dense
With nuts and sultanas. His stiff hand raced.
Gooseberry pie. Fresh watercress. Hot mince.
He dined on chops and chocolate like a prince,
Stuffing his lines with sage and lemon paste.
Never enough cake so he dreamed of quince:
Shrimps, winkles, pancakes, cucumbers and mince.
People do not go outside
for fear that they will be outside
& someone larger will be inside of them.
In the phobic kingdom, scratches
become tooth & nails marks. Creatures
from outer space injecting this,
Everyone wears socks with holes
inside out, as a disguise
against heartbreak; the circus
animals have taken off, as
Yeats has told us they would.
People do not remain inside long
for they will be abducted, instructed
in the latest forms of technological advances;
they will learn the hula hoops, &
several new languages.
In the phobic kingdom everything
is old hat. Our children turn into
frogs, and glaciers; postcards
show up twenty years late
with vital information.
In the phobic kingdom students
always major in Criminal Insanity;
steal books from your shelves,
resell them in Boston or San Francisco.
DRY ROT AGAIN
Now, maybe it's dry rot. Or something
like it. Maybe it's the razor blades.
Downstairs, the devout Christian slamming
the doors, just as the doors have been slammed before.
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." A good functional
Biblical phrase. Bowling was a good functional activity,
Biblical in nature, the cycles, the numbers.
Three balls if it's duckpins, ten frames, sort of
like the apostles, but add a couple. Well, ok, bowling
isn't so Biblical except for the three holes,
bored into the dark ball, the holy trinity of bored holes.
The tires on the car, & the four plugged slashes,
What could they mean? Who's in charge
of the new scenario? Cultural anthropology & creative
writing: What a combo. Perhaps, I had been sleep driving
the whole time, on the outskirts of this reality.
Peering in occasionally for some reason. Jim Wright's,
This Journey. Annie Wright's phone call from the airport
back in May/June 1994.
That other woman always said, staring at her flat tires
those really cold mornings, "Must be
dry rot." I ran my fingers over the creepy fissures.
"Dry rot, yes." Well, then we got Biblical, & went bowling
with the cultural anthropologists, & tried to learn
how to keep score of the downstairs Christians.
Coooee. Mama says what’s the point. I guess
she has been to town lots longer, like she says,
but I don’t know. He seems so sweet sometimes.
He asked me over yesterday, a sunny day,
and Lord—even a bit on the warm side
for a change. So we went out back, behind
Mr. Brown’s garden, to that plot of high grass
Mr. Brown says he plans to turn under
next month, so he can cultivate some corn.
Mr. Dilke says he will give that credence
when it’s done. Now, Johnny brought this basket
filled with a half loaf and some white cheese,
and a little jar of brown beer as well.
When we sat down in the grass I could tell
it was so we could be alone, the grass
being a bit higher than our heads. And sure
that was fine. Then he pulls a roll of papers
tied up with red ribbon from inside his coat,
and he says he has something for me. Oh,
do you? I say. He asks me do I know
the story of St. Agnes’ Eve, and I say
no—for I could see he wanted to tell it.
Of course, every girl learns such stuffings
at mother’s knee, but I say mum’s the word,
ha-ha. So, he unties the ribbons, and there
is his new poem, on the nicest paper,
all copied out neat in ink in his own hand.
He said the idea came upon him late January
when he and Mr. Brown were down to Chichester
and it had been so cold. He had been fiddling
with it ever since, over two months now.
He called me his pretty twin, like he does,
for when we walk people say we look alike,
our heights coming up near almost the same.
To tell it true, when I wear my hard heels
I stand a bit taller I think—I never before
being with a boy not higher than myself.
But that’s nothing. He told me he has been
working on the poem in his bedroom, late
at night, until his eyes would sometimes get
all swimmy-like and blurry from him just
having the two or three candles, and so would
have to stop till morning. He said he loved
that his bedroom now had been my bedroom
only last year, just seven months before,
until we moved over to Elm Cottage—
and he said at night he was sure my spirit
still lingered there. Well, I could see the drift
where we were headed clear as rain. Then he
read his poem. And it was oh so finely done,
it seemed to me. I never learned so much
about poetry, or I guess almost anything—
but it looked all lovely copied out like that
and sounded lovely too. As lovely maybe
as Childe Harold, I said. But that made him
make a funny face. I did not quite catch
each bit of it. There were some things going on
that sailed above me, but, coo, I heard
the part about the boy hiding in the closet
to watch the girl drop off her clothes for bed
all right. I saw the drift and how they ran
away at the end. And when he finished reading
he looked up, and sure he had tears in his eyes,
so sensitive, flushed near like a pink rose.
He rolled the papers back up, tied them tight
with the red ribbons, and handed them to me.
Then he reached over, just that soft, and took
my hand, and kissed me. And I let him. Then,
he touched me, you know, there. But, that’s nothing.
I let William do the same last summer
and why not? Such private things between those
who care seems fine—as right as rain to me.
He whispered my name, over and over,
in my ear, and I of course said his name back.
We held each other close for what did seem
the longest time. And then we were quiet,
like people often get after such goings-on,
and picked up the picnic things and wandered
back to the house and Mr. Brown’s parlour.
Just last week, Mr. Dilke said he will make
a grand poet. And Mr. Brown says he is one.
I’ve heard others say the same, but Mama says
be careful. Mama says you can’t eat poems
or wear them. She says the way things are
a woman had best map each single step
before she takes it. And if you can’t cock
a careful eye to the far side of a door—
you best not plan on waltzing through until
you can. Well now, sure, there is some smart,
I guess, in all of that.— But I don’t know.
The Kenyon Review
has surrounded us.
My mother's room
is way too warm for me,
just right for her -- with an extra
Outside, this uneasy year, her 93rd,
lurches through December.
She is surely serene in this place,
thanks to whatever goodness;
queen of the electronic piano.
Among my chief duties now
I have become her human calendar,
a stay against time, her reach for the
Each visit, we review the years.
We sit and we talk, fragile mother,
This afternoon, I assemble for her
some semblance of my long-dead
father, the only husband she had.
I tell her his story.
We study his photograph.
Do you remember him, I ask?
She looks again.
she answers, softly.
But isn't he good looking!
She smiles. I
In the gathering dark,
we cry a bit together:
I for what she has forgotten,
she for what I remember.
- John Stone
We drifted downstream under a scattering of stars
and slept until the sun rose. When we got to the capital,
which lay in ruins, we built a large fire out of what chairs
and tables we could find. The heat was so fierce that birds
overhead caught fire and fell flaming to earth.
These we ate, then continued on foot into regions
where the sea is frozen and the ground is strewn
with moonlike boulders. If only we had stopped,
turned, and gone back to the garden we started from,
with its broken urn, its pile of rotting leaves, and sat
gazing up at the house and seen only the passing
of sunlight over its windows, that would have been
enough, even if the wind cried and clouds scudded seaward
like the pages of a book on which nothing was written.
New York Review of Books
Nothing alive can keep us as we
The end loves all the doors that close away.
We may embody what we never know.
I hear a song, my ear is tuned its way;
I doubt another soul is listening so.
How much of this is here I cannot say.
Today is no more now than what we flow
around and out from, the tender play
and nuance fading above the lines. So
Yeats began his last drama in a graze
and stupor, longing inverted, the show
staged on the pallid air without a trace
of author or audience. A shadow
has more concoction. Implicit Mallarme
felt syllables in a senseless undertow
pulling him toward a music time's gray
undoings leave no markings for. Low-
ing of cattle, bellwethers. Paul Klee,
his hand brushing his son's shoulder as though
to draw thence his dancings, tried to allay
the long wait in a box, virtuoso
toying with angles. Pudgy Joan Miro
made floral epididymides sway
and swim in a gathering overflow
of plasma and grist. No one can betray
gifts so immanent, so trimmed, their piano
forte thinning even as a rainbow
imagines itself without mist. Unsay
what you can. Out in the desert Rimbaud,
king of kings, hawks baubles and the echo
rises against the sun's hammered tray.
He doesn't distinguish, nor does yesterday.
The end loves all the doors that close away.
The Paris Review
If we only knew how fireflies are
long-tailed or short-tailed stars
or even not stars at all but
lemons dying of thirst, pleading
like sucklings, or soldiers at a
water-hole smelling of cumin,
feverish on the black wet stones
so no wonder they look confused
through the flowers and wire
as little lights go off in their heads
and on their tongues when they
dive at lightning on the water or
leap up at wandering celestial wheels
that cast no shadow so they can’t
be lost, always where they are going
in a wide wake, always on the
other side of things, or how they’re
gold of the conquistadores melting
in gouts drifting away, then we might
know the true substance is not ash
or accident but what’s left is still
the real thing so, though we may not
know what that is, there’s no point
in trying not to catch it.
The New England Review
To some it might seem strange
to think of hummingbirds as I sit
alone watching a snow squall.
But I’m thinking of them flying across
the Gulf of Mexico without pause,
and then returning almost on cue to
the place that bore them, in this case,
here where I can see one of their nests
the size of a child’s fist, woven of
tiny twigs, dry grass, moss and gossamer,
buffeted and bouncing at the end
of a narrow maple branch that doesn’t
look too safe. I’m thinking that the only
way they could be so small and yet so tough
is if, as Lawrence wrote, they were once
much bigger in a primeval otherworld
“before anything had a soul”, and they’d
retained those giant appetites and abilities
but now packed into bodies a thousand
times smaller, in some sort of inverse evolution
shrunk to the size of a vivid thought,
a quick insight, forbidden or guilty
desires, the kind that are bright and
burn and burn you and when you try to
shake them off they fracture into spectrums,
that scale and cling, ever more voracious,
as poignant as obsession whose motive is
more of the same, year after year, and so
focused that when you think you’re thinking
them, they’ve already thought you through.
On it I engrave another scene in which
I gave them what they wanted, “things
as they are”, although it was not mine to give.
They’d guessed that much, having seen through
my disguise and noticed my limp. They’d take it
all the same, they said. You never know.
But when they left they didn’t--by then I had confessed
that all I do is forge whatever’s needed
with whatever comes to hand, stick things where
they make or don’t make sense, such as here
and now where birds rise over the river’s mouth
then sweep above pines, flexed, looking to be
understood the way the world once was, which
I still try to do, so that in that seagull’s eye
I’d turn vast and burn into things, making something
that will eventually unmake itself, and so on.
I try a phrase to stamp it into yet another shape
but something flashes from it like a file of fireants
and I follow, heading to where more seabirds have returned
to sit on an old wreck, staring at the sky as if
it was something on its own, not theirs. Then
something spooks them and they take off into the curve
of the horizon I blow on until a flame erupts that,
passing, leaves black streaks on clouds and along
the sides of this house like the ocean’s mark when it
withdraws to flow around the edge of the shield which is
the world which could be you but isn’t, ever, quite.
The Yale Review
I catch the clean quiet of solitude,
slowly losing this useless day to dusk,
slipping on Coltrane, looking over
my shoulder to sky
edited to a few gray lines,
and one lit kitchen window
across the courtyard.
Depression is a wonderful thing.
You sweep under beds
and scrub the bathroom so clean
it looks chapped. Fighting off sleep,
you read and come across the name
you need: Chucho.
Chucho, you say out loud,
interrupting this jazz-filled room--
Chucho, that’s what you’ll call him,
your dog, if you ever get one.
Chucho. Come boy. Let’s take a walk
or something. You and me.
My mother got old overnight.
One day she was dancing.
The next she barely walked.
She could no longer shop or cook.
Meals came on wheels
from a delivery man, happy
to have boxes of her 78s.
I got used to her new old age.
I thought it would end with white hair,
or the shopping cart I weighted
with Vogues we pushed to the mailbox.
I figured our Scrabble games
were guaranteed. But her back
got too bad to sit, even in synagogue,
so she celebrated holidays with a radio rabbi
and said things could always be worse.
I tried too hard to cheer her.
Everything I said was wrong.
My jokes fell flat; conversations reduced
to lighting single matches. She squeezed my arm
like a blood-pressure cuff on her walk
to the television where we caught
Bette Davis out hunting
in an old movie, lying still in the grass
until BANG, she shoots a porcupine
out of a tree. "Why’d ya do that?"
her co-star asks. "Porkies make me nervous".
And suddenly we’re laughing our heads off,
agreeing finally on what’s funny.
They don’t make movies like that any more.
Later, as she falls asleep, I watch the pain
leave her face I see my future in.
I want to say she’ll be better soon.
You’ll be stardust. I will too.
But I’m afraid she’ll take it the wrong way.
The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review
I’m reading. A gold-tipped insect lands
on the page, following each word.
I wonder if (a) he’s a fan of Proust,
(b) sees each letter as another insect, and
(c) am I obligated to keep reading
this unfortunate choice
on such a humid day?
I study him.
His Groucho eyebrows grab me.
I rise gingerly, carry him in state
inside the open book
while I select another
from a shrinking stack.
And settle back.
The insect hops on, but takes off
by page 2, unwilling to waste time
on best-sellers, I guess. Or maybe
I’m overthinking this, and he was just in it
for the madeleine.
I did not want to be old Mr.
Garbage man, but uncle dog
who rode sitting beside him.
Uncle dog had always looked
to me to be truck-strong
wise-eyed, a cur-like Ford
Of a dog.
I did not want
to be Mr. Garbage man because
all he had was cans to do.
Uncle dog sat there me-beside-him
looking from garbage side to side:
Like rich people in the backseats
of chauffeur-cars, only shaggy
in an unwagging tall-scrawny way.
Uncle dog belonged any just where
he sat, but old Mr. Garbage man
had to stop at every single can.
I did not want to be Mr.
Everybody calls them that first.
A dog is said, Dog!
Or by name.
I would rather be called Rover
And sit like a tough
smart mongrel beside a garbage man.
Uncle dog always went to places
unconcerned, without no hurry.
Independent like some leashless
Honorable among scavenger
And with a bitch
at every other can.
His for the barking.
Oh, I wanted
to be uncle dog--sharp, high fox-
eared, cur-Ford truck-faced
With his pick of the bones.
A doing, truckman's dog
and not a simple child-dog
Nor friend to man, but an uncle
traveling, and to himself--
and a bitch at every second can
The Chicago Review
IS IN THE CRACKS
tiny crack separates this world
the next, and you step over it
in the cracks.
propped up, nurse hovering, phone ringing.
and breathe from your heels.
tell me, have you enrolled yet?
Illinois College of Podiatry.
have a job. I teach.
Well, I'm a man of the lower extremities.
what? I'm eighty. I knew you
you began wearing shoes.
good for feet? he asks.
That's all I get from your poetry.
words lack feet. Forget the mind.
all over the place. There's no support.
want me to be proud of you? Be a foot man.
son, he says, handing me back my shoes,
walking in these.
supports. Now there's a subject.
day you'll write about arch supports.
Narrative for Voices
(For reading by Garrison Keillor, Writers Almanac:
From beyond the grave, the podiatrist counsels his son on
How to pray?
You're gonna need a password.
But not now. And you're gonna see
its numbers, not words. Didn't I tell you: if its got words,
its not prayer, and its not a password either.
So what if Im dead? What does that matter?
You think you bury your father and that's the end?
Schmegegge! What are you thinking, that the living
have a monopoly on life?
Give the dead some credit.
I didn't just die, you know. Think of the preparation. A man
has to get himself ready. And what did I ask?
That you pay your respects. So light the yizkor,
light the candle. Oi!
Tear the clothes, rend the garment, I said, and that you
Point my feet toward the door, I said, and that you did.
God takes what He takes, son, and the body follows.
But prayer? Prayer? Where was the prayer?
Listen: God created us first the feet,
then the rest.
So? So we bow the head when we pray
to show respect. Cover the head,
where's your yarmulke? Daven, daven,
rock back and forth? Now ask:
Who am I? Who am I?
What am I here for?
These are the things you ask,
but this is not prayer.
Its what you need to know before you start.
Why are we here? Were here to mend the world.
Just remember, God doesn't answer prayers.
So don't ask.
Don't ask for anything.
Shopping is shopping. Prayer is prayer.
Don't confuse the two.
God Is in the Cracks,
A Narrative for Voices
A drift of wind
when August wheeled
brought back to mind
an alfalfa field
where green windrows
bleached down to hay
while storm clouds rose
and rolled our way.
With lighthearted strain
in our pastoral agon
we raced the rain
with baler and wagon,
driving each other
to hold the turn
out of the weather
and into the barn.
A nostalgic pause
claims we saved it all,
but I've known the loss
of the lifelong haul;
now gray concrete
and electric light
wear on my feet
and dull my sight.
So I keep asking,
as I stand here,
my cheek still basking
in that trick of air,
would I live that life
if I had the chance,
or is it enough
to have been there once?
Our dog swipes the shank bone from the sedar plate,
shakes her muzzle from side to side, takes off
through Elijah’s door: this roasted symbol of the sacrificial
lamb we offered in the Temple to remember our exile
and commemorate our liberation now clenched
in the jaws of this overgrown golden retriever puppy,
this what-we-call-in-Hebrew zeroah, meaning “arm,”
meaning how our God outstretched his enormous arm
to help his people in our times of aggravation, what
we’re undergoing now, the guests arrived, the table
set with plates and wine glasses, Haggadahs and candles,
bowl of salt water, bowl of roasted eggs, the charosete—
our laborious mortar—chopped and set beside the bitter
herbs, what we will mix in with our dog’s Alpo once
we can coerce her to give it up, but she’s clamping
and sloshing it around her drenched tongue as if
this were the last bone on earth, as if she understood
that this was from the original lamb our High Priest chose
when we all put down our weapons and tools to gather
and witness this primordial offering: to assuage our guilt,
to accommodate our primitive desires, to draw nearer
to the source, our surrendering—before the destruction
and therefore absence of our assigned place
so the scholars say we can sacrifice nowhere
until the source returns and now my five-year-old daughter
has tackled our dog in the yard and pulls hard at the bone,
all of our guests approaching closer in mesmerized silence.
WITH MY BROTHER AT WALDEN POND
Twilight, January air unseasonably warm,
we add our stones to the pile that was
his house. Further on, at its reproduction,
we look through a window, imagine Henry
reading the Vedas, chuckling to the sparrow,
minding not the hours. Briefly we balance
the rails where he heard the train’s whistle
and said it will ride the backs of the laborers.
And if he heard the power saws and backhoes
clearing and layering the private property
across the road for condominiums? Earlier,
on Poet’s Ridge, I tried to be quietly desperate,
to not keep pace with my companion,
my brother the mathematician explaining
the Theory of the Steady State, about how
a system’s recently observed behavior
continues into the future.
Thoreau, too, had a brother.
They traveled rivers together.
When he came down, suddenly,
with lockjaw, Henry nursed him
but he died in his arms anyway and Henry
loved him so much he completely lost interest
in nature. He became, he said, “denaturalized.”
He loved him so much—this rugged individualist,
this stone cold solitary, this disobedient,
this misanthrope, this independent, who wanted
only trees for company, this loner about whom
Emerson said, “when you touched him, he felt like bark,”—
that he developed lockjaw himself, sympathetically.
In the blurred light of this new dark,
either a thin pine leans across the surface
or Henry is a-fishing. Why not?
Behavior continuing into the future.
Henry bragged like Chanticleer, standing on his roost,
to wake his neighbors up. I tried to wake
my brother up once. The younger, I splashed
ice water on his face so he’d rise and toss
the football. He beat the deserved crap
out of me instead. Now we look for stones
flat enough to skip, a skill at which he’s
proficient, the advantage of a life of absolute
concentration. Sidearming an obscure slab
he had to scrape for in the hard soil that—why
not?—Henry sparked for his reading lamp,
we follow its hops and circles and widening
undulations, like the motions of the planets,
or our souls rippling back round to water.
Chautauqua Literary Journal
SPEAKING OF MIRACLES
My friend’s wife is dying of cancer.
He’s gardening at twilight, scraping
the weeds, telling me about the frog’s
calm stare. He says: The doctor told me:
incurable, and I said now tell me
about a miracle. He says: Enough already.
We have an addition to build. We have
a fence to mend. Staring into the garden
bursting with growth. Hoeing corn
is healing, he says, working the soil,
his gestures filled with their future feast,
staying alive in the single moment.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to think
we have a home, even as we work
in the perennial dusk, even as
our children dress like princesses
and prance around the porch. Perhaps
we’re wrong to think of the moment
as ours, the soft after-rain air,
the sweetness of the Madonna lilies,
that sleep our bodies ease themselves
into, the dreams we trust to the dark—
maybe it’s our failure all along,
how the tomatoes will taste
in August, and the corn, our error,
and, again, that harvest, our desire,
where we’ve hidden all that
accumulation, all that seasonal drift
all that pulsing of the earth,
our soil seasoned with ancestral bones.
In this blessing we call time, we speak
of the blue moon and of flight,
of lips sweet as grape’s blood,
wind in our voices. We speak
of this fleeting world, inadequate
as we are to the moment, of fresh pesto
from the just-picked basil, mixed
with garlic, asiago cheese, pine nuts,
whipped into this green stuff
when you spoon it on top of angel pasta
and savor it on the tongue, close
as we come to eating the earth directly,
taste of the soil and last night’s rain.
He says: if there’s a miracle, let it be now.
The man standing on the airport tarmac in black and white
whirling his arms like blades of a kitchen appliance
is not a great soloist from the standpoint of technical brilliance.
He's a great soloist from the standpoint of diamonds.
The circles he turns are the sun and the moon revolving,
resolving in sky the color of blankets on a cold night.
Yes no, yes no, yes no,
the stride left hand says.
"I'll have what he's having," says the melody in the right.
Some new worlds wait years for their discoverers
to get on their ships and split for Europe, metaphorically speaking;
Monk waits for the light in his brain to go green
so he can watch all those literal people cross the street at the same
Dark glasses, fedora. The air around him
is empty, by some accounts. When he plays
no one is laughing, and Monk is not so sure
they're supposed to be.
High Plains Literary
Smetena's piece is about a
river, but all here is field
and shallow lake that spring
I fish for bass,
swearing at the carp that take
It was called "program music,"
that music should mean, could
suggest something paraphrasable--
a flowing, sparkling and blue in
a Czech landscape
through the last century. In
the rear view mirror
I see only enough to wonder why
I've made meaning
on Blue Earth County 12, which
is wholly without loveliness
and wholly without my affection,
which is not to say
that I am more lovely than
stalks and drifts
or that I make any sound
good enough for what they do.
(One car speaker is shot,
and the tape is crinkled where
the brass come in.)
What used to be prairie is torn
to feed us and pigs.
that grind through winter, the
radios thudding city streets all
are drowned out only by the
whine of my travel,
the airplane hum of Toyota
The road into snow is questions
with white answers,
my vow to leave as empty as the
static between radio stations
once "The Moldau" has finished
and I can't take the tape out
while driving an icy patch.
So I have to listen to myself
blow on about southern Minnesota
while the sun sets inoffensively
through a marsh of winter clouds
over the field next to the lake
or over the lake next to the
the field next to the field.
My Mother at Eighty-Six
She’s just so tired—she’s been gone—
just now got back, which would explain
it, and those people who were here
have just left—not when or then
or even now. But just.
On the phone I tick and pause,
dependably wait, a sun locked
on the present I’m insisting on,
its bright rock. We share a talk
that makes her calm at least.
Her voice is a close guess:
Do you want to say hello
to the other folks here? Dad?
Gramma and Grandpa?
The past must be and must have been for her
like so many drawers in a large chest
popping out at random, unexplained
like early animation,
or steam from a calliope’s pipes,
how it corresponds to pitch,
water rising to air to disappear
in a pattern other people find amusing, but too loud.
I guess you’re going to have to do
something about your mother, she says.
She lives alone, and sees the joke
will always be on her. I goofed up.
But they’re so near for her:
the smiling man in cocked hat and brown suit
walking toward me home for lunch, forty years ago;
the patient couple in those very old clothes
whom I danced around as they waited to die content.
What is her life with them I can’t know?
I’m jealous for a moment, it arrives then passes,
and I have to play the role,
a watch too new to break.
It must be and must have been
as she told the police it was,
that her husband got off the bus somewhere
and didn’t come home last night.
She thought she’d wait at least
till morning before she called,
six a.m., and could they find him
and did they think that he was gone.
On the Art of Patience
With a Mozart concerto in the background
and little to do as I waited for the next available associate
to be with me shortly, I began to comprehend
how one infinity can be larger than another,
not in the sense of the mathematician
who can prove that rational numbers are countable
and real numbers are not, but my patience,
which I am continually thanked for,
the next available associate undoubtedly
unaware of my infinite fascination with Mona Lisa’s
excised eye staring upside down
from the minute hand, obliterating the smile at half past
the hour on the artisanal timepiece
my wife brought back from Florence last year.
A larger infinity is what my neighbor’s cow
exhibits every day lying near the split-rail fence,
alone with her thoughts as the cars whoosh by.
This morning, she half sat, watching the sky clear
after a gauzy, misting rain that Constable
would have captured in a pastoral scene,
though the cars would have been horses,
and they would likely have been grazing when the sun
broke through and beat on their backs, the life
of horses not so different from the life of cows
or people on hold, or even an artist like Reinhardt
whose work seemed to be rushed near the end
of his life, no doubt the reason
he turned to monochromes and they turned so black,
the tall rectangles of earlier paintings
ceding their space to smaller squares, the subtle changes
in hue and tone maybe discernible by others,
but not me, though they might have been
had I been able to view one at MoMA
under different light and catch a trace
of the mountains at deep dusk he must first have
brushed onto the canvas, followed by a beach
with bathers clad only in dark skin, then a black
haystack with Black-Eyed Susans off to the right,
and ending with a self-portrait that explicated
his choice of color—undetailed, unremitting, permitting,
no not permitting, but coercing
the viewer’s mind to co-exist with the artist’s, as in
stepping into Gaudí’s forest of columns
that draw one’s eyes to a ceiling where porphyritic trunks
branch into geometry, the redwood canopy
leaving no sense of outside world, there being no sign
of anyone’s god lurking in the stained glass,
no resolution of apse from transept amidst a thicket
of rusted iron shafts and crossbeams,
scaffold for the project he couldn’t complete in a lifetime,
that may never be finished in anyone’s lifetime
my wife and I concluded as we passed through
the timelessness of the cathedral on our recent trip
to Barcelona. Finishing is not the point in art,
just calling it quits when one runs out of patience
or some other project commandeers the mind,
which brings to mind the plight of the pandas,
a species also on hold, who, like their forebear
Ling Ling, have trouble procreating
in captivity, the problem not that there aren’t enough
bamboo shoots or Eucalyptus leaves
to keep them healthy and amorous, or enough open space
to tango with a mate,
but unlike the cow trying to insinuate herself
into the Constable landscape, the female panda
doesn’t see the point of lying around
feigning lack of interest until her consort
springs into action. Or perhaps she can see
the thing is being filmed and refuses to take part
in panda porn, isn’t fooled or moved by Mozart
saturating the air from speakers hidden in trees,
no more than I was for 19 minutes and 57 seconds
(no, Mona Lisa doesn’t have a second hand,
but the rose-gold Tourneau that my wife
bought me in New York City does)
kindly continuing to hold for the next available associate
at William Ashley, sole Canadian distributor
for the English Portmeirion Botanic Garden collection
of fine china, in particular the six 8″-diameter
pasta bowls featuring the Treasure Flower,
Eastern Hyacinth, Sweet William, Garden Lilac,
Dog Rose, and Belladonna Lily, their common names.
Later, with more time, though for no good reason,
I was able to find the Latin appellations,
which, in the interest of space, I won’t provide.
Did I mention that I was trying to buy the pasta bowls
for my mother’s 80th birthday in two weeks’ time?
Or that the next available associate told me
they were out of stock? Would you like
the salad bowls instead? she asked.
No important work to do today, I think,
as I lie in the hammock one last time
before storing it for winter,
just a few chores around the yard—
deck chairs to be stacked and stashed away
and the lawn raked despite the pears
and oaks hanging on to their green.
Stamped on the pencil I’m using,
first snow falling on the half-finished bridge,
now as in Bashō’s time,
the halfway done possibly a road
to nowhere, like the wars we shouldn’t start
and the marriages we can’t finish.
But he must’ve meant that I find myself
amidst the season’s first flurries,
leaves collecting at my feet
as I rock in the wind, writing to my father
that I’m grateful he’s still alive
and there’s time to erect the rest of the trestle
and walk together to the other side,
light snow falling on our backs.
Southern Poetry Review
One Would Hope
that life’s last moments travel slowly,
quieting the blood and brain
with time enough to hear one’s choice
of music, a plucked lute for the teenage boy
driving through a crowded street
towards a Baghdad square
to gather his father from work,
talking to his mother
about a soccer game or friends at school
when the hail of bullets rang.
And for the mother leaning on her son,
a lullaby, one her mother sang to her,
and she to him. For both of them,
one would hope that life was long enough
to hear each other’s song.
THE SEA OF TIME AND SPACE
But we see only as it were the hem of
When with our vegetable eyes we view
these wondrous visions.
Midsummer, and a lone bee
murmurs among the lavender
along the path we've laid into
round aggregate slabs that
darken in rain
under the feathery leaves of
the honey locust
whose lowest branches make us
We have given the body the
ritual of its need,
cooked al dente, putanesca,
in the savory kitchen,
the tulip bowls of our glasses
splashed with wine.
Now, in after-dinner twilight
still bright above the fence-line,
the compass angle of the house
glows against the sky.
In such light, on Peckham Rye,
Blake saw his first vision,
the tree above him filled with
angels, their wings bespangled
Thereafter, prophets appeared in the fields
beyond Dulwich and Camberwell,
Gabriel walked with him among
the shambles at Carnaby,
his spirit guide through
infinite London. And, one day,
God himself gazed from the
casement window on Broad Street,
plain as a mother seeking her
children in the crowd....
Our ancient days before this
earth appeared to my mortal eyes:
inside each particle of dust
the elemental strings,
behind the vegetable world the
bleak Satanic mills--
gods of his own making,
the titan walking behind the
carapace of a flea.
Single vision. The earth
perceived merely as earth,
devoid of spirit's
translucency, its light
dispersed in waves through the
sea of time and space,
deranged by the gin of the
One March morning, after making
love, we saw
from our upstairs window a hint
among the brown scatter of
leaves and wasted fronds
of fiddleheads, the first frail
strips of crocuses,
like decorative ribbons,
until earth's economy
compounded the scales
in hyacinth and candy-tuft, in
the steps, starbursts in the
slow motion of its falls.
For weeks we found sprigging
among the beds
pliant trunks of infant maples,
leaves spreading like river
deltas, gathering light.
And we'd go uprooting, feeling
in our hands the tug
of generation, its mechanism
incessant fall of the eternal
driven from sweet delight,
unless the mind revive and the
body wash itself
of experience. All spring we
listened to squirrels
in heat along the power lines,
to the sparrows'
untraceable clamor through the
You soaped aphids from the
flutes of honeysuckle,
scattered shards of eggshells
under the hostas
to guard them from the slugs
you swore you heard
chewing each night through the
their soft bellies bleeding on
quicksilver trails of slime.
In the suburbs of Ulro the
mills whirr into motion--
Case, Modine, Twin Disc, plush
furnaces of Metal World.
Invisible occupants swag in the
Their poisons silver the
leafage after rain,
sift into soil and skin,
ineradicable, then resurrect
in the brute lump seething in
the mother's breast.
Strange smells along the
lakeshore, North Beach closed
again beyond the Treatment
Plant. Under dead stacks
at Cliffside the church league
for their buddy rounding third
and heading home.
He has become the idea he
longed himself to be
before the grind, and slides
safely into reclaimed dirt.
Now, along Franklin
Street--call it New Poverty Lane--
under the shadow of the
genius's office tower
(his leaking monument to Nature
and to Work),
the settled migrant walks
beside his ramshackle home,
labors to fulfill the
to beautify the town or face a
This evening, in the garden, we
released the last
of the ladybugs, our small
effort at harmony,
their killing a necessary
hunger in the balance.
And now, at the feeder, a
congregation of birds
pecks at the seed. They bolt,
and a jackdaw assumes
the roof, fixed eye unblinking.
He caws and caws.
Today, as though all life
existed to amaze us,
a dragonfly alighted on the
bench where you were sitting,
gold as though daubed in golden
ink, and stayed
a full five minutes, motionless
as a brooch.
When Blake descended to his
garden, A Human Wonder of God,
he'd sit naked with his wife in
full view of the street,
as though their bodies had
passed into translucency,
light shining through the
portal of every pore.
Upstairs, the graver's tools,
copper plate and burin,
took ease of their labors in
the mind's illuminations:
as though, as though, until
what the soul longs for
scores itself within the body's
Playing on their trampoline,
the neighbor children shout.
Another neighbor's falcon
squawks inside its cage.
Blue globes of thistle shake
mildly in a breeze.
The roses, past their bloom,
bleed like wax into their stems.
On his deathbed, Blake sang a
favorite childhood hymn,
then disappeared, as he said he
would, into "The Next Room."
Just now, as if in unison, the
emanations of the Mundane
Shell, or drifting stars?
No, they are our small lanterns
waking with the night.
Just now, just now, and now it
is just then.
We might be under water with
the bergamot and hyssop.
And the bee remains a pilgrim,
aloof and prodigal,
still humming to the engines of
his own bright world.
A PALM PRINT IN LASCAUX
I, too, want to reach behind
the stone veil,
the rabbit down its winding hole
Into the whisper-chamber,
bosses like sails
in an earthen wind, this first world
With its presences recursive in
ibex, mammoth, and stag, the steppe
Alive in limestone on the
my lamp to terra incognita,
Magician in my skin-cape
the underworlds infinite hat.
Tallow smell above the axial
of light in the hall of bulls
Illuminates the surging
stone had fixed itself from shifting clouds
Into these forms heard by the
hide. Black blooms of antlers splay
From a stags head. Aurochs
in the mind cleaves to this rock-face
Like a cave-bears tooth housed
in its niche,
bones articulated in their graves.
What hides, parietal, in the
mask of dark
After-image the child fashions in sleep,
A drunks tremens, a
screensavers bright mark,
gallop across the humming screen?
As in a high nave curving
blessed pose in their spirit ride,
So these inhuman majesties
descendant. Flint-knapped, finger-fluted,
Walls move, tangible air. A
horse reels, heaved
a penitent: the stunned, healed soul.
The wounded man recumbent in
the bisons charge, arms outstretched
To embrace What Comes.
Beside him his staff
whitewash where an all-seeing bird
Contemplates a beast, tail-up,
whose horned head
into the membrane of the vision.
Skeletal soul, mesne of the
living and dead,
émigré to the haunts of the human,
Imaginer, your shadow runs like
the living coverts of our sojourn.
Glyph-shapes, frescos, graffiti
on their stall?
Island once I saw a hand
Traced in detention beside the
flared like this one spit-painted
In the cave, an earth and
the negative of a childs print.
When the dying tallow lamp of
to nothing and snuffs the planet
There will be just such a form
left in space, immaculate.
The Southern Review
SMALL ODE TO A SEA TURTLE
To travel rolling depths by
sniffing the wind to find your path--
seaweed, beach-grass, spindrift
such codes of the invisible
further you, mute current
sojourner through muck and wrack-line,
oceans navigator, parser
of waves, tidal swale: old soul.
I knew you first in glossy
fed your image in a tank
in that room above the Narrows
where I first dreamt of a future.
Nothing of your voyage
I would, pathetic figure,
fashion you a simulacrum
of my own bewildering desires.
And your port, Ascension
from the littoral of words
into light bracing as blown
the shell of flesh become a raiment.
Patience is the art of all
promised shores, youll breach
into homes trackless air, youll
nest, and to begin again.
Let’s begin with
dinner, the menu:
oiled lettuce, lemon
juice, broken bread,
noodles spun with
and the matchstick
of fennel and skin of
I’m not angry yet,
stirring the sauce.
The wine tastes like a
Let the fly rub his
over the wet cutting
let him hold still in
the bright aroma.
talk of a high order
among the men.
The female side of the
is motherly, leaning
to serve the salad.
No one says thanks –
is this 1953? Sorry.
The newest year’s
wind takes the trees,
and pine needles fly,
a dry shower,
a needle storm.
There’s no decorum outside.
while his words
cascade around me,
I focus on the spoon,
ruined with red. The
is the center of the
rising heat world.
The spoon with its
shreds of red
holds the glory of
taste and submission
in its olive grain.
Bump, bump, bump, I tap the
on the bowl’s edge.
I keep undercutting
The guest is sated,
sips his wine,
tips the chair on two
The fly has found the
Let him eat from the
The Southern Review
The first time she could remember hearing thunder
she’d been sitting on her grandma’s lap
in the formal parlor of the big old house where she
was visiting. She flinched and shuddered. “What’s that,
grandma?” She’d asked. “That is the voice of God,”
the old woman said, and then they heard it again
rolling out of the clouds, across the sky
and into the formal parlor hung with drapes
where the portrait of her dead grandfather hung above
the mantel and stared at her
as though with the eyes of God. She blanched and shuddered,
and had been shuddering ever since, whenever
the great dark clouds rolled over the deep blue sky,
shutting all the earth into a parlor
hung with mists and rain, where a dead old man
stared down at them out of the roaring heavens
and told them what he thought without a word,
with only the sound of warning, the sound of dread,
the clap resounding out of admonition
and into the parlor in which they were entombed.
THE SHIFTING WEB
It is time to write a poem.
You have spun out the string of hours —
it winds down the road, across
people's lawns; it tangles itself
in the bushes of the park, catches
in the lower limbs of a horse
chestnut, and there, now, it lifts to
a kite, a blue kite against the gray
sky. You must shinny after
it. When you've caught it, hauled it down
by its rag tail, you see your poem
scrawled on the tissue wrinkling in
your hand. You feel the balsa rib
bow. Windcaught, the kite whispers free, sweeps
across the street, blowing like
the spiders that ride the air as
voyagers: you have read that somewhere;
the kite spins out its line. You can
not now follow. Your hands stop. No
longer do they climb and circle. You
have seen the poem. The day
freezes in its frame. The words squirm
out from beneath your hand. The wind is
solid air, the clouds the color
of waiting. Only the kite moves
above the still neighbors in their rooms,
on their lawns, amid their sounds
turned to rosedust hovering in
a blank white square of world: When that is
done, things will move again. The kite
will be somewhere in the center
of the shifting web it is weaving.
You will follow it, follow
the filament from pause to pause,
poem to poem. It is almost
done. You can feel the wind stirring.
The ancient albums lie
behind the parlor door spinning fine
tintype fables between plush covers: straight stares
line out over handlebars and whalebone
stays. They were familiars,
once; now the summer eyes of the old
farm run through evenings of conjecture, try names
against heydays, trace the features of these
over collars and boas. A jowl
sags here, beneath this rafter. An eye is gray,
like the sky over the hill. A fire
flickers at the grate, flares
and settles. Someone lights a pipe. Now
the pictures come to life and walk the halls: this
bone is the old lady's, that tooth the man's.
Whose child is this that sits
in the dusty shadows — whose dust, whose
shade? Who made the bed of webs above the ell?
Who sleeps, who wakes, whose footfall on the floor
disturbs the carpet beetle in its lair?
THE CREAM CITY REVIEW.
Tanks run over the castle
of my childhood in December.
On our black-and-white TV
I see the riot police
shields and truncheons.
Vinegar is the only thing
you can buy in the stores.
Telephones turn into toys.
Because of a curfew,
my father’s bedtime stories
grow longer than ivy and
wilder than calendula.
Restless in bed, on the ceiling
I conjure green magical birds
that take us to their nests
in the mountains.
We are feathered and fly
in the orchards of edible dreams.
In the morning, I line up my teddy bear,
doll, slippers, and boots
in front of the store I built
with wooden blocks.
If they wait long enough
in line and don’t fight,
they will get flour, meat,
toilet paper, chamomile tea,
and a herd of unicorns.
- Agnieszka Tworek
Grief Runs Untamed
In one hand, the exiles hold a bundle
with a blanket, medicine, and a comb,
in the other, a door-handle.
They attach it to every mountain and wall,
hoping the handle will conjure the door
that will open and let them in.
Through the swamps, down the dirt roads,
through the frigid water the exiles go,
knowing they shall never return.
In their former homes, if there are still homes,
only the wind wails. Spiders weave
their shrouds over the cupboards and beds.
Cats, left behind, wait to be scratched under their chins,
a dog smells the scarf a young girl dropped
and barks on the cellar stairs.
Near the road thousands took to flee—
—a carcass of a cow still tied to the olive tree,
abandoned like their tea sets and pots.
A widow with children runs from the Guatemalan gangs.
Newlyweds from Syria huddle in a dinghy
in the Mediterranean, their wedding rings sold
to help pay the way. A couple from Sudan
limp along on the scorched ground with their epileptic son.
Those who survive and settle in a new place
sometimes dream at night of returning
by foot to their native homes.
When they wake up, they have blisters on their feet.
- Agnieszka Tworek
Stoned by noon, I’d take the trail
that runs along the X River
in the State of Y, summer of ‘69,
crows’ black ruckus overhead.
I’d wade through the ferns’ sound
of vanishing to the almost-invisible ledge,
stark basin canted out to the southwest:
sheltered, good drainage,
full sun, remote, state land.
You could smell the blacker, foreign green
from a long way off when it rained,
incense-grade floral, the ripening spoils,
then pang of wood smoke,
antiseptic pitch and balsam,
scents cut like initials in a beech,
then cold that kills the world for a while,
puts it under, then wakes it up
again in spring when it’s still tired.
I woke from its anesthesia
wanting the tight buds of my loneliness
to swell and split, not die in waiting.
It was why I rushed through everything,
why I tore away at the perpetual gauze
between me and the stinging world,
its starlight and resins,
new muscle married to smoke and tar,
just wedding the world for a while.
About to divorce it, too,
to marry some other smoke and tar.
On snow shoes in falling snow,
we lugged peat, manure,
and greensand a mile up there.
alfalfa meal, spent hops.
The clones bronzed, hairy and sticky,
and a week before frost we’d slice
the dirt around them with a bread knife,
which gave the dope
a little extra turpentine.
Weed, reefer, smoke–
it was one of life’s perfumes.
Sometimes its flower opens
on a city street, gray petals,
phantom musk dispersing.
Sleeping out on the high ledges
on a bed of blueberries dwarfed
by wind and springy beneath the blankets,
we’d watch for meteors and talk till dawn,
gazing toward the pinnacle in the distance,
pyramid to the everlasting glory
of Never Enough, not far below us
in his tomb, asleep in the granite chill
with the bones of his faithful animals.
Could this be the pinnacle?
To be slumming back there
buoyant on the same old
wave just breaking,
now the wave of words, the liftoff?
I’m still cracking open the robin’s egg
to see the yellow heart, the glue.
A pinnacle is a fulcrum,
a scale. And now that it’s tipped,
I can look back through the ghost
of self-consciousness to its embryo,
first the tomboy,
then the chick in a deerskin skirt,
the first breaking of the spirit,
the heart’s deflowerment.
Caw, caw, a crow wants to peck
at the ember of the mind
as it was before it tasted
the dark meat of the world.
But I can call it back–
the match’s sulphur spurt,
its petals of carbon and tar,
a flash of mind, a memory:
how after each deflowerment,
I became the flower.
One thing Ive learned,
the world is full of salesmen
tumbling on adulterous mats
as signs blink VACANCY
on lonely motel acrobats,
in loves stretched skin.
They buy me drinks
and take their chance
that nights of passion far from home,
miles of steps
from the trumpets drone
will only end in dance.
I tour their wallets
where children smile
unfolded from the leather void
whole families proudly frozen
with a polaroid.
One even wept on the bathroom tile.
In rooms where lights are seldom lit
we slide our shadows on the bed
and warm the valleys of the quilt
our bodies rub together
to smooth away the guilt.
I stay until his flesh is dead.
Before the sun I leave his room
and walk the parking lot.
Frigid in the pre-dawn cold
I know once more
tied to a life I cant unknot.
-Richard Van Zandt
The Brown Bag
On the wood slope her nakedness
Becomes a slice of snow
Refusing to thaw
Hidden from the sun,
Frozen in pine shadow.
Hikers move against the hill;
Coming upon her
She stuns the dead leaves,
A beauty of marble
Curving the winter earth with breast and thigh.
Police shape a sling
To her body
Gently swaying to the ambulance
Its dome orbiting the silence,
Splattering planets of blood on rock and branch.
A map is made of her body.
The scalpel traces a murderous route,
Carving highways to the heart
Tunneling to the stalled traffic
Of her brain.
She becomes the mathematics of her parts.
Divided in weight
Color and size,
The amber islands of her form
Set afloat like fruit in jars.
She blackens in a drawer;
Disguised from her killer
She rides beside him,
Snow in a memory of headlights.
- Richard Van Zandt
The Brown Bag
The day the royal court came through our village-
many drums and flutes, grandfather monkeys
with faces like fists and jewels the size of fists,
each elephant its own tree of blossoms,
a tiger on a leash, a pair of peacocks--
the old emperor did not choose me:
he chose my delicate sister. Our poor family
shrieked and clapped and pulled their hair, thinking,
plenty rice each year. And what does she think,
in the emperor's lap, inside the palace walls?
I did not put away the beautiful clothes
but wear them out among the buffalo,
wear them out in the field, in the standing water,
the filthy water that breeds our meat and drink,
my bent back a flash of scarlet and gold
that scatters the ducks and aggravates the swine.
Why not? Do I have some other calling?
The dull human oxen point at me:
the lesser gods thought I could withstand.
Their judgment too I can withstand.
-Ellen Bryant Voigt
He woke from fitful sleep, his father said,
calling for his mother-why wasn't she there,
why would she leave him in darkness and in pain?
"And I had to tell him, as if for the first time-
it was for him again the first time--
his mother had long been dead. For me, that loss
had become a shard worn smooth inside my pocket.
For him, it was sharp, new, not possible.
He wailed like a baby, my poor bewildered child,
and could not be consoled, like a child."
-Ellen Bryant Voigt
To do something with it: to make something of it:
language races alongside, any given minute,
anything that happens--flies ahead of it
or lags behind, looking for meaning, beyond us yet,
on which we feed. So when the child provides the perfect
utterance, at once profound and innocent, resident
mystic, parent thinks, got to write that down. Next step:
dinner party, rude guest, appalled wife of guest,
the spilled red wine, congealed meat, the spoils left
to be distilled by the host on whom nothing is lost.
And what if the wife or even the self-afflicted guest
is you? Or, if your friend/wife/mother has been beset:
you drive to Intensive Care and take along a book:
worse, you take your pencils--two, in case one breaks-
and little bits of paper handy in your pocket,
are you not a monster? But is the human mind not
monstrous in its secret appetites, its habits?
In the Common Room, room soured by hope, late at night,
intending kind distraction, you hear your own mouth asking
the father of Frank, who is dying, "what do you do for a living,"
the unforgivable word a marker for the thought:
however will he/would I survive? Monstrous to set
that thought aside. But on your barely legible scraps:
the phrases, the very words, preserved like bees trapped
in amber, in anger, in grief, in all that overwhelmed.
Again, again, again, frail wings beat as they hover
over the untranslated world, to find what we need
(thicket blooming south of here) and bring what they find
back to the humming, hungry, constricted hive.
-Ellen Bryant Voigt
They hold their hands over their mouths
And stare at the stretch of water.
What can be said has been said before:
Strokes of light like herons' legs in the cattails,
Mud underneath, frogs lying even deeper.
Therefore, the poets may keep quiet.
But the corners of their mouths grin past their hands.
They stick their elbows out into the evening,
Stoop, and begin the ancient croaking.
Five Poets of the Pacific
In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International
Convention of Athiests. 1929
Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside and question the metal sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say
all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I’m focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t
there that makes the notion flare like
a forest fire until I have to spend the afternoon
dragging the hose to put it out. Even
on an ordinary day when a friend calls,
tells me they’ve found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,
wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which--though they say it doesn’t
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.
Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s
a phone, maybe. You know you didn’t order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don’t know who it could be.
You don’t want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbered up
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up
and a voice you love whispers hello.
-Jeanne Murray Walker
Just once, you say,
you'd like to see,
an obituary in which
the deceased didn't succumb
after "a heroic struggle" with cancer,
or heart disease, or Alzheimer's or
whatever it was
that finally took him down.
Just once, you say,
couldn't the obit read:
He got sick and quit.
He gave up the ghost.
He put up no fight at all.
Rolled over. Bailed out.
Got out while the getting was good.
Excused himself from life's feast.
You're making a joke and
I laugh, though you can't know
I'm considering exactly that:
no radical prostatectomy for me,
no matter what General Practitioner
and Major Oncologist may say.
I think, let that walnut-sized
pipsqueak have its way with me,
that pebble in cancer's slingshot
that brings dim Goliath down.
So, old friend, before I go
and take all the wide world with me,
I want you to know
I picked up the tip.
I skipped the main course,
I'm here in the punch line.
Old friend, the joke's on me.
What young couple, leaving the affair, hasn't seen them,
the fauns, leaping vast foliaged silences,
slashed momentarily by headlights:
their yellow, goatlike, sin-slit eyes,
their scabrous haunches,
the dull gloss of cloven hoof as it disappears in brush?
We had been arguing, slightly drunk,
about ex-lovers with flirtatious
gestures, about low murmurs in corners --
suddenly they appeared, three or four,
a muscular rush among brambles, a furious blur, almost-
human creatures swept underworld by light.
Our rampant voices stilled then --
that awestruck hush,
creation's tentative pause --
then only the tick of wipers urging our arrival
home, the undressing, the desperate
confusions of flesh -- mine or yours? --
while fauns huddled in leaf shadow,
rubbing together their burr-riddled, filth-smeared
flanks, nuzzling coarse necks, still
spooked by the splendor
kindling God's wild eye, still
catching their terrible breath.
The Gettysburg Review
That Halloween I wore your wedding dress,
our children spooked & wouldn’t speak for days.
I’d razored taut calves smooth, teased each blown tress,
then—lipsticked, mascara’d, & self-amazed—
shimmied like a starlet on the dance floor.
I’d never felt so sensual before—
Catholic schoolgirl & neighborhood whore.
In bed, dolled up, undone, we fantasized:
we clutched & fused, torn twins who’d been denied.
You were my shy groom. Love, I was your bride.
In those days while my then-wife
taught English to a mustached young nurse who hoped to join
her uncle's practice in Queens,
I'd sip gin on our balcony and listen to her
read aloud from the phrasebook,
then hear the student mimic, slowly, Where does it hurt?
then my wife repeat those words
so the woman might enunciate each syllable,
until I could no longer
bear it, so I'd prowl the Ambelokipi district
attempting to decipher
titles emblazoned on marquees-My Life As A Dog,
Runaway Train, Raging Bull-
then stroll past dark shops that still sold only one item-
kerosene, soap, cheese, notebooks-
to step down into the shop that sold olives, only
olives in barrels riddling
a labyrinth of dank aisles and buttressing brick walls.
I'd sidle among squat drums,
fingering the fruit, thumbing their inky shine, their rucked
skins like blistered fingertips,
their plump flesh, the rough salts needling them, judging their cowled
heft, biding my time. Always
I'd select a half-kilo of the most misshapen,
wrinkled and blackest olives
sprung from the sacred rubble below Mt. Athos, then
had to shout "Fuck Kissinger!"
three times before the proprietor would allow me
to make my purchase, then step
back out into the smut-stirred Athens night to begin
the slow stroll home, bearing now
my little sack of woe, oil seeping through brown paper,
each olive brought toward my mouth
mirroring lights flung from marquees and speeding taxis,
each olive burning its coal-
flame of bitterness and history into my tongue.
My friend Eddy had a younger brother who
definitely had something fucked up in his brain. Eddy's mother
prayed out loud all day in her bedroom, lit with candles.
I never heard his solemn, steel mill father
utter one single syllable. Not ever.
Because no one else would, I loved Eddy. I went to his house
where other children feared to go. I heard his mother
pray and weep so loud, I almost ran away
until Eddy held my wrist and said to take it slow.
I didn't know then what immaculate beauties I was among.
We tried to teach his brother how to use a fork and spoon;
how to zip his fly and pee like a man;
how to swing the bat, but he never learned,
and I didn't know then
that love could be about two boys like that,
and that what Eddy held fast before the waves of prayer,
and the stony father's silence,
and the world's infinite
indignities, is called brother,
and what he gave up, is called everything.
No One, November Seventeenth, Two Thousand Four
I didn't stop to consider the sociological implications
before I acted, or before I spoke out.
Someone at the academic party said "vis a vis" and I lost it;
I fell into a beautiful flashback, man,
rockets that sound like trains through the night sky, but
that was that, more or less instantaneous, so that no one noticed
I had left and then come back. You
don't have to tell me a thing or two about portals,
I've seen the visitors come and go.
There's the talk, and then there's the talk about the talk.
And isn't this romantic, to love words and the sounds of words,
even as the bodies pile up in secret; even as the children
are terrorized out of their minds by bombs we pay for. You can only
cover your mouth, so you won't scream out loud.
We watched the one thousandth dead soldier's face
on the color television with a flat screen so that
no matter where you sat, you saw him face to face.
With the promise of the liars on his lips,
he died in the liar's war. To die alone in the desert,
far from home, far from the people who love you,
is not ever a glorious thing, and I don't give a fuck
what my government says otherwise. Sacrifice and slaughter
are not the same things. The sorrowful red star mothers
will come out of their thousand houses to tell you that
in the thousand languages, the thousand cities,
and the thousand torn hearts,
and what do we say to them,
and what do we say to the faces we see in our own mirrors,
the ones who still want answers, even as we turn away.
The George Review
for Thom Gunn
There is no east or west
in the wood you fear and seek,
stumbling past a gate of moss
and what you would not take.
And what you thought you had
(the Here that is no rest)
you make from it an aid
to form no east, no west.
No east. No west. No need
for given map or bell,
vehicle, screen or speed.
Forget the house, forget the hill.
Though the season's begun to speak
Its long sentences of darkness,
The upswept boughs of the larch
Bristle with gold for a week,
And then there is only the willow
To make bright interjection,
Its drooping branches decked
With thin leaves, curved and yellow,
Till winter, loosening these
With a first flurry and bluster,
Shall scatter across the snow-crust
Their dropped parentheses.
The New Yorker
Blackberries for Amelia
Fringing the woods, the stone walls, and the lanes,
Old thickets everywhere have come alive,
Their new leaves reaching out in fans of five
From tangles overarched by this year's canes.
They have their flowers, too, it being June,
And here or there in brambled dark-and-light
Are small, five-petalled blooms of chalky white,
As random-clustered and as loosely strewn
As the far stars, of which we are now told
That ever faster do they bolt away,
And that a night may come in which, some say,
We shall have only blackness to behold.
I have no time for any change so great,
But I shall see the August weather spur
Berries to ripen where the flowers were --
Dark berries, savage-sweet and worth the wait --
And there will come the moment to be quick
And save some from the birds,and I shall need
Two pails, old clothes in which to stain and bleed,
And a grandchild to talk with while we pick.
The New Yorker
This Pleasing Anxious Being
In no time you are back where safety was,
Spying upon the lambent table where
Good family faces drink the candlelight
As in a manger scene by de La Tour.
Father has finished carving at the sideboard
And Mother's hand has touched a little bell,
So that, beside her chair, Roberta looms
With serving bowls of yams and succotash.
When will they speak, or stir? They wait for you
To recollect that, while it lived, the past
Was a rushed present, fretful and unsure.
The muffled clash of silverware begins,
With ghosts of gesture, with a laugh retrieved,
And the warm, edgy voices you would hear:
Rest for a moment in that resonance.
But see your small feet kicking under the table,
Fiercely impatient to be off and play.
The shadow of whoever took the picture
Reaches like Azrael's across the sand
Toward grownups blithe in black-and-white, encamped
Where surf behind them floods a rocky cove.
They turn with wincing smiles, shielding their eyes
Against the sunlight and the future's glare,
Which notes their bathing caps, their quaint maillots,
The wicker picnic hamper then in style,
And will convict them of mortality.
Two boys, however, do not plead with time,
Distracted as they are by what?--perhaps
a whacking flash of gull wings overhead--
While off to one side, with his back to us,
A painter, perched before his easel, seeing
The marbled surges come to various ruin,
Seeks out of all those waves to build a wave
That shall in blue summation break forever.
Wild, lashing snow, which thumps against the windshield
Like earth tossed down upon a coffin lid,
Half clogs the wipers, and our Buick yaws
On the black roads of 1928.
Father is driving, Mother, leaning out,
Tracks with her flashlight beam the pavement's edge,
And we must weather hours more of storm
To be in Baltimore for Christmastime.
Of the two children in the back seat, safe
Beneath a lap robe, soothed by jingling chains
And by their parents' pluck and gaiety,
One is asleep. The other's half-closed eyes
Make out at times the dark hood of the car
Plowing the eddied flakes, and might foresee
The steady chugging of a landing craft
Through morning mist to the bombarded shore,
Or a deft prow that dances through the rocks
In the white water of the Allagash,
Or, in good time, the bedstead at whose foot
The world will swim and flicker and be gone.
The New Yorker
Get old enough so you won’t have much to fear.
By then, the music plays inside your head
and everything beautiful must be learned by ear.
In the bathroom mirror I behold my wear and tear.
In our bedroom I try to levitate in bed.
Get old enough so you won’t have much to fear.
Meanwhile, my son at six wants to keep me near
and we sing together every night head to head.
So everything beautiful must be learned by ear.
His father’s tunes, though, will one day disappear
beyond today’s routines and daily bread.
But get old enough so you won’t have much to fear.
Remembering my mother was my first career
and the songs surrounding her on which I fed,
knowing everything beautiful must be learned by ear.
We may waltz in the kitchen now, my dear,
or dance out of time in our sleep instead.
Get old enough so you have nothing left to fear.
Everything beautiful must be learned by ear.
The Paris Review
In my work, at any given point,
the great issues of identity politics
and dialectical absolutism assume
a tight coherence, a profoundly
threatening total awareness
by which I seek to mediate
the conflict between meaning
and the extremes of deconstruction.
I never strike a false note.
I believe in savvy artistic
incandescence as a constitutive
enhancement of racy sexuality,
all as a way to examine the
necessity of self-love.
It’s always dangerous to underestimate
my work. I insult the intellectual
dignity of the French. They arrive
in my brightly colored landscape
right after quitting time only to discover
an empty stage set in which all the clueless
actors have wandered off to an installation
of obsolete Marxist sloganeering.
Yeats was deeply immersed in mythology
and so am I. T. S. Eliot preferred Dante
to Shakespeare, but I don’t. Charles Bernstein
loves the way my sentences decompose.
John Ashbery will read my work only
while naked. Everything I do is the pure
output of brains, speed, and skill.
A couple of weeks ago, I digested
Aristotle. I found him to be electrifyingly
ahistorical, and he now has been subsumed
into my work. I have open-ended stratagems
when it comes to the Germans, particularly
Goethe and Kant. They live now in my
imagination. I go way beyond alienation
into a new synthesis of desire and content.
My work stands for something invisible,
something inner. I attempt to explain
the risk of appearing. Foucault would know
how well my work succeeds in revealing
the discourse between power and structure.
When you read my work, you may think
“simile” or “metaphor,” but what you really
get is the storm, the dark mansion, the servant
girl standing alone in Columbus Circle.
Triumph and loss permeate my work.
People should try to pick up on that.
My technical virtuosity is unrivaled.
Don’t talk to me about subject matter.
My work takes “narrative” and turns
it into what never happened. In my work,
“story” becomes language contemplating
its own articulation in a field of gesture.
There is a higher reality at play in my work.
Sacred memories resonate with perceptual
knowledge of the body as primal text. Yet
my work is never subservient to the dominant
ideology. It circulates warmly and freely
through all available channels. My work
is like the furniture you so much want to
sink into, but must wait as it wends its way
from distant points in a giant moving truck
screeching across the country
to your new home.
Jennifer Connelly Sestina
The boy returns home with blue hair.
The dog understands everything we say.
He is wearing an lampshade around his neck.
His left hind leg is stapled closed.
The veterinarian says there is no reason for God
because the universe is just a dog’s dream.
We can all agree that Jennifer Connelly is a dream.
Almost naked, in a thong, cloaked in her long black hair,
her every move is proof for the existence of God.
The boy with blue hair is not willing to say
why his lips are sealed, his mind made up, his door closed.
I am not wearing a lampshade around my neck.
My wife once owned a jacket with “Great Neck”
printed on the back. Before we met I had a dream
about her name. I waited until the restaurant closed
to tell her she had dazzling movie-star hair.
In fact, she is just as beautiful as, let us say,
the astonishing Jennifer Connelly, so help me God.
The boy and the dog are friends with God.
They claim they feel his hot breath on their necks.
Unfortunately, they don’t like what He has to say
I’d like to take this occasion to daydream
briefly once again about Jennifer Connelly’s hair
and the rest of her: extraordinary. That’s it. Case closed.
When I got to the church at midnight, it was closed
tighter than the eyes and ears of our good friend God.
Frankly, in that proverbial foxhole, I’d take Madalyn O’Hair
over the Pope. The boy’s upstairs playing bottleneck
guitar. The dog is drunk on pain-killers, dreaming
that if he could talk, he’d know just what he would say.
O, Jennifer, there is still so much left to say
but my time is up, it’s late, everything is closed.
I want to crawl into bed, past the dog, and dream
of the sex palaces of Heaven, where everyone is the God
of love, and you and me and my wife are racing neck in neck
with the erotic angels of Paradise, but I win by a hair!
New Orleans, like you, is now a dream. Maybe I’ll call this
of the Dog,” who, by the way, has become an incredible pain in
What more can I say, except that in Waking the Dead, you played
I walk around them in
silence, those who say
that making ourselves ready for judgment day
is the one reason we're here, and those who insist
that we're no more than water with a twist.
Sometimes they take my arm. I tell them, "Okay,
that makes sense to me," and move away.
Clearly there's something somewhere that I've missed.
Somehow we probably do and don't exist,
but all these finer subtleties fell to the floor
the night you opened the window and closed the door
and smiled in a frozen curve that burned to be kissed.
Arts & Letters
SOME LINES TO A DOG WHO
DOESN'T SEE THE DIFFERENCE
I know that you know more than I recognize,
and slowly I have almost learned to read
vocabulary and grammar in your eyes,
but we can never be the same breed.
I have to use my fingers when I feed
and you could never learn to tell me lies.
Believe me a dog, my friend, but then be glad
to lie down to a dream I've never had.
The Chariton Review
It would sound good to say that
chairs and doors,
cups and buttons, books and
will not be what they were
before the joining
of these two people who are
lovers and friends.
It would sound better to say
the change is all
in him and her but if, in the
these both are lies and there
is little that changes,
still there's a gladness in the
Say that these who please each
other have chosen
to live their lives together
and thereby touch,
to let his door be hers and her
Some may think this isn't very
to marry for, but others think
Her longing for smell brought her back
to Hixville. North & South, Questions of Travel.
She talks of her three-day trip to Key West, how
standing at the gate of Bishop's White Street,
she believed she could identify origins
by journeying far from her territory.
She understands she is dead.
"Did anyone see FDR arrive by limousine
for his postmaster's burial? Did anyone
see me at age seventeen waiting for Eleanor
in the Civil War heroes' circle?"
Mother asks me to stroke her shoulders, wet
her lips with strawberries and grapes.
Her vault is sealed with epoxy.
Her casket is locked, her mouth sewn shut.
"Talk to me so the darkness will lift."
Near her grave, the boughs
break over infant headstones.
The stone angel is blue in the cold.
Snowflakes drop through her hand
shaped to carry a pansy bouquet.
Already I Am Losing You
In your walk-up
this rainy summer
we unravel Neruda,
baste his love songs
to the seams of our
encounter, then move
like the nesting birds
on your Imari vase.
Already I am missing
your red Sarouk,
white wainscoting, drawings
in pale colors and
ink. Already I am losing
you as my blue shadow
turns our love mewlings
and the rain
and flaming figures
or a caprice.
I have forgotten my skin, misplaced my body.
Tricks of mind, a teacher once said: the man
with the amputated right arm convinced he could
feel the sheets and air-conditioned air touching
the phantom skin. There must be a syndrome
for such a thing, a named constellation of symptoms
that correspond to the ghost hand and what it senses.
This morning, I felt your hand touch me on the shoulder
the way you would when you turned over in your sleep.
What syndrome describes this? Not the sense of touch
but of being touched. Waking, I felt my own body,
piece by piece, dissolving: my hands, finger by finger,
then the legs and the chest leaving the heart exposed
and beating, the traveling pulses of blood
expanding the great vessels. The rib cage vanished
and then the spine. If your right hand offends you,
wrote Mark, cut it off and throw it away,
for it is better for you to lose a part than to lose
the whole. But I have no word for this phantom
touch, and the fully real feeling of the hair
on your arm shifting over my own as your hand
moved from my shoulder and out across my chest.
Desire makes me weak, crooned the diva,
or was it Augustine faced with his own flesh?
Whisper me a few lies, God, beautiful and familiar lies.
- C. Dale Young
The Southern Review
Drive up with me.
Show the way, magpie, across the invisible
Old ghosts, be near,
but not too near.
September, early morning, not a trace of haze.
Rabbit brush glows like sulphur
and the mesa dozes in sunlight.
The corner-eye specter on the trail
is a rock or a piñon stump
or a tourist aiming a camera.
Sun-shimmer and squint. The gorges
lie silent and waterless
like dreams of river valleys
that rivers never made.
Climb into me, Anasazi,
take my tongue and language,
tell how you came to farm the corn,
hoarding the snow-melt, learned
to be weavers, potters, masons
in the huge American daylight,
gathering pine nuts, hunting mule deer,
crushed juniper berries with water,
mixed them in cornmeal for our thick blue bread
-- what was our word for bread? --
and praised the gods, hunched in our smoky
singing over the soul-hole
the mystery of our birth
when first a man crawled out
from warm dark to open air.
We farmed till the droughts got worse,
the corn and squash and beans
shriveled and died, the game thinned out,
and we moved down to live
in the scoops and pockets of cliffs
where water seeped and food could be hoarded,
two hundred feet below the dizzy rim,
nine hundred feet above the canyon floor
perching like squirrels and jays
because the gods decided
(what were the names of the gods?)
that life had been too easy,
that snows should stop and water shrink
and we too nest against the canyon walls
mindful of hardship.
Silence again. Silence in Spruce Tree Lodge,
at Hovenweep, Chaco Canyon,
stone and sunlight resting against each other
and no ghosts coming to converse
at nightfall when the stars spring out
and we stand on the rimrock, staring up
at the Bear and the hunters chasing him,
at the stocky women, grinding corn
among dogs, turkeys, children,
while smoke floats from the kiva
and snow-fluff crowns the sagebrush.
Silence, solstice to equinox.
Empty granaries, cold firepits, dry cisterns.
The sun walks through the canyon,
peering under the sandstone overhangs,
and the wind walks too, wearing pine-smell.
Skull-jar and serviceberry,
a ghostly sea of buffalo
tossing on the plains below.
And the light slips off
among the rifted mesas,
the dead are wrapped in turkey-feather
rabbit-fur robes, yucca mats,
and buried in the trashpiles,
while the living move south or west
in search of food and water
leaving it all to the sun and wind and stars
who lived here first.
The night is dreamless,
a star-chart, a crescent wrench moon,
and the air hangs quietly
a sea whose bottom you walk
looking up through the empty miles,
the rocks around you liked turned backs.
The sun cracks earth, the frost splits rocks.
Whats history if it falls away,
if the brick-colored woman
milling corn in the courtyard
isnt kin to us, cant leave this landscape,
neighbor horizon and brother canyon wren,
toehold and rampart,
the old river of belief
that pounds through empty gullies
like sunlight and moonlight
leaving them undisturbed?
Touch me. Moisten my mouth,
dazzle my eyes. Link me for a moment to the
that wore on gently here
and left these ruins to the sun.
In the swept museum,
smaller than hummingbirds
these people kneel and climb in little models
weaving their tiny baskets
hoarding their dollhouse ears of corn.
And who doesnt crouch below some diorama
while sunlight moves across a mesa.
hearing the call of raven,
glimpsing the Stellers jay?
I write this on an overhang, a porch,
against a California canyon
that runs down to the sea;
across the way the houses perch and nestle
among the live oaks, palms, and avocado trees.
Hummingbirds float through my eucalyptus
like strange little fingers, or gods,
while the ravens shadow travels the rough slop,
wrinkling and stretching,
recollection of another life.
The hummingbird comes to rest, midair,
and the mind meshes with other minds,
lost patterns of thought that hang
over the mesa, across the hillsides,
in pools of light and shadow,
and make us bow in thought or prayer,
silence or speech,
while the sun that walked this canyon
when it was brown and empty
and will have it so again
carries the day away
through dry and shining air.
Nothing much, and little else.
We had a lot of rooms to visit. Nothing simple.
We used a flashlight just to get around
the huge and cluttered building. No one spoke.
Clusters of trash and funny echoes;
something that moved ahead of us, a rat,
maybe a bat or one small roosting owl.
I hummed a tune that was inaudible
and you, you seemed morose, remembering
dead family members, pets you'd lost . . .
Well, nobody got hurt and no one minded
the pastness of the past, its growing distance.
This was the sort of thing we did at night,
often while sleeping, sometimes when awake.
Someone was reading in the back,
two travelers had gone somewhere,
maybe to Chicago,
a boy was out walking, muffled up,
alert on the frozen creek,
a sauce was simmering on the stove.
Birds outside at the feeder
threw themselves softly
from branch to branch.
Suddenly I did not want my life
to be any different.
I was where I needed to be.
The birds swirled in the dusk.
The boy came back from the creek.
The dead were holding us up
the way the ice held him,
helping us breathe the way
air helps snowflakes swirl and fall.
And the sadness felt just right,
like a still and moving wave
on which the sun shone brilliantly.
BECAUSE ZIMMER IS HEIR TO
warmth of dandelion, shamble of bear,
caution of inchworm, brain of flicker,
he was not surprised when, ankle deep
in snow among the February woods,
he felt suddenly aroused by a sound
like a wooden spoon rattling a bucket.
It was just another brother, a grouse,
confused and drumming on a hollow log,
like an old man dreaming he is young again,
wishing for love in a preposterous season.